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Tomato skins can be annoying to chew, but that might be the clue to their usability as packaging

Malaga scientists working on creating bioplastic from tomato skins

Malaga scientists working on creating bioplastic from tomato skins

Another solution that points to food being both a source of nutrition and packaging

The race to create a new model of packaging is clearly on. Recently, we reported on research led by the University of Siena (Italy), which sees the way to biodegradable plastics as one that passes through shrimp shells.

It turns out that other scientists, this time working at the Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture ‘La Mayora’ (IHSM) in Malaga (Spain), are working towards a similar goal. They, however, see the solution in tomato skins.

Tomatoes are a big research subject at the IHSM

In this project, the waste resulting from the industrial processing of tomato fruits will be used as a bio-renewable resource of unsaturated and polyhydroxylated fatty acids. These acids will then be used to manufacture biodegradable and innocuous bio-based lacquers using ecological technologies and industrial scalability for food packaging.

In other words, all these tomatoes going into the production of salsas and ketchup will really get used to their last fibre. The skins, which are the resulting by-product from food production is organic and degradable, but the research team still wondered why it should go to waste in the first place.

Reportedly, the bioplastic created from the tomato skins would decompose in about a month in the sea, thus showing it can be both fairly durable and non-taxing for the environment. For comparison, petroleum-derived plastics take about 450 years to degrade in the environment.

The application of the new bioplastic, however, might still need some time to take off on a widespread commercial base, as it needs to become cheap and easy to produce and create the necessary equipment for that.

The tomato itself is quite the star at the IHSM. It is the focus subject in many of the ongoing, and possibly revolutionary research projects taking place at the Institute. Among them are projects that seek to understand the molecules that signal the right ripening moment of the fruit or another that wants to create varieties more resistant to climate change by tapping into the plant’s genetic makeup.

We shouldn’t be surprised – after all, Spain is one of the world’s main tomato producers and we can feel safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t let gazpacho become a thing of the past.

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