Editorial Feature

Sustainable Food Packaging with Tungsten Oxide Thin Films

The increase in concern over the state of the environment has led to many innovative changes involving plastics. Biodegradable and bio-derived plastics such as poly(lactic acid) (PLA) are a solution to solving this problem; however, with drawbacks that have outlined its inefficiency for mass use, critical research is required.

Sustainable Food Packaging with Tungsten Oxide Thin Films

Image Credit: Olga Miltsova/Shutterstock.com

A recent study on the use of tungsten oxide thin films has aimed to enhance the performance and efficacy of PLA materials. This article will explore this innovative research further as a method to revolutionize the enormous consumption of plastic use and advance a vision of a greener future.

Currently, there is the mass use of conventional oil-derived polymers, especially within food packaging, but the use of this material for mass production globally can be problematic for the environment. These plastics that may have origins from crude oil have been created with characteristics incompatible with mass production, which becomes more apparent with consumer utilization of single-use plastics.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Traditional Plastics

Plastic has become the ‘go-to’ material for most products in circulation and in use by customers worldwide. These materials have many benefits, such as being light-weight, durable, and having oxygen-sealing attributes that enhance their desirability for various applications, from keeping food fresh to protectively sealing products.

However, there are many disadvantages of these conventionally created oil-derived plastics, which have caused significant damage to the environment.

Being chemically stable, these plastics do not react chemically with other substances, enabling plastic containers to hold various compounds, making them valuable for laboratories as they do not degrade.

This lack of degradation is also the downfall of this very useful material. Its lack of ability to decay translates to being in existence for a very long time. Half the plastic produced is used for single-use applications, leading to a high volume of plastic being wasted and ending up in a landfill.

Approximately 5% of plastics are recycled effectively, 40% are estimated to be in landfills, and an estimated volume of 8 million tons have been predicted to be in natural habitats such as the ocean. Subsequently, this results in the breakdown of plastic into debris size particles, referred to as microplastics – a small but dangerous risk to human health.

Microplastics

Microplastics have been proven to affect human health in various ways, from being ingested by sea life, which causes death and interferes with natural selection, and the prey-predator cycles, which further affect marine life.

With microplastics absorbing toxic chemicals in a high concentration level, if consumed by humans, either through ingestion via water or through animal consumption, they can cause severe damage to human health.

Poly(Lactic Acid) and Tungsten Oxide

Poly(lactic acid) or PLA is a type of biodegradable and bio-derived plastic that may be an innovative solution for the environmental issue that conventional oil-derived plastic consumption holds. However, with limitations such as having a poor gas barrier and high transparency to UV radiation, they are prevented from being used within the commercial industry.

With the emergence of nanotechnology and advanced development in various fields, tungsten oxide has provided a promising avenue to create degradable plastics with commercial use.

A novel study published in the journal, Coatings, has explored how the deposition of tungsten oxide thin films on commercial PLA can advance this bio-plastic to enhance its overall performance and provide a more environmentally friendly solution for plastic manufacturing.

The researchers investigated various thickness levels of tungsten oxide coatings, such as 25, 50, and 100 nm, deposited through radiofrequency plasma magnetron reactive spluttering.

The team utilized various morphological characterization to address how the tungsten oxide affected the performance of PLA, with surface chemical changes being assessed through different types of spectroscopy methods.

This novel research was found to hold promising results with the incorporation of tungsten oxide coatings on PLA, illustrating significant improvements in UV protection and oxygen barrier characteristics. Additionally, light transmittance was found to be reduced in regards to both UV-A, UV-B and visible light, which was also a marked difference from PLA in its original form.

Oxygen permeation was also reduced by 99.9%, and this innovative combination of tungsten oxide and PLA was found to hold antibacterial properties against bacteria such as E.Coli.

Innovative Applications

The potential of this innovation utilizing tungsten oxide can be seen to be revolutionary for the advancement of sustainable plastics.

Using plastics for a majority of packaging materials has been a tradition due to its many benefits, and while paper packaging can be useful for some products as an alternative, it is not comparable to plastic.

The results of this advanced study have illustrated the potential of tungsten oxide and its use as a thin coat for PLA to create a hybrid bio-derived plastic. This material is beneficial and can be utilized in the same fashion as its conventional counterpart without the environmental consequence of toxicity. Additionally, its potential for antibacterial characteristics can be helpful for use within sustainable food packaging as it can ensure bacteria such as E.coli within food is prevented and reduced.

This revolutionary development would be an innovative and eco-friendly alternative to food packaging, which is responsible for a large majority of plastic manufacturing and is usually intrinsically wasteful due to its single-use nature. However, with an appropriate switch to this more environmentally friendly bio-derived material, plastics can be used without harming the environment. 

Continue reading: The Future of Removing Microplastics from Water with Nanotubes.

References and Further Reading

Pedroni, M., et al, (2021) Plasma Sputtered Tungsten Oxide Thin Film on Poly(lactic acid) for Food Packaging Applications. Coatings, 11(11), p.1281. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/coatings11111281

De-la-Torre, G., (2019) Microplastics: an emerging threat to food security and human health. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 57(5), pp.1601-1608. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13197-019-04138-1

Naty.com. (2021) Why we should stop using oil based plastics - blog | Naty.com. [online] Available at: https://www.naty.com/gb/en/why-we-should-stop-using-oil-based-plastics.html

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Marzia Khan

Written by

Marzia Khan

Marzia Khan is a lover of scientific research and innovation. She immerses herself in literature and novel therapeutics which she does through her position on the Royal Free Ethical Review Board. Marzia has a MSc in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine as well as a BSc in Biomedical Sciences. She is currently working in the NHS and is engaging in a scientific innovation program.

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