Inma Gonzalvo / 04 October 2016

First bioplastic made from surplus whey cheese industry

WHEYPACK is a circular project in which the cheese industry, that generates the whey surplus, becomes a beneficiary of the new PHB biodegradable packaging tailored to the needs of their products.The Project, led by AINIA, counts as partners with CENTRAL QUESERA MONTESINOS, AIMPLAS (Spain) and EMBALNOR (Portugal).

Valencia, October 4, 2016. A team of researchers has achieved the first bioplastic material made from whey derived of cheese making. Specifically, it is polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), obtained by a fermentation bioprocess of whey, a by-product from the cheese industry.

The LIFE WHEYPACK European project aims to respond to one of the current concerns of the dairy industry: what to do with whey surplus derived from cheese making. Therefore, this circular economy Project promotes that the generator of the waste, the dairy industry, can make a profit by the production of the new PHB biodegradable packaging tailored to the needs of their products.

In addition, WHEYPACK will demonstrate environmental and socio-economic benefits of this biobased and biodegradable food packaging material with a lower environmental impact through the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in comparison with current petrol-based food packaging materials. The biodegradable food packaging material selected is Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) obtained from whey that comes from the cheese industries and produced using a process of microbial fermentation.

The PHB obtained from the whey surplus of Central Quesera Montesinos (Spain) could replace traditional plastics in the packaging of their own dairy products, consequently achieving the main objectives of WHEYPACK LIFE project: obtaining 100% biodegradable cheese packages, enabling a lower environmental impact, fulfilling the requirements of product protection and being economically viable too.

This European project, funded by the LIFE program, is coordinated by AINIA technology center. It is a cross border collaborative project (Spain and Portugal) and counts on the participation of the cheese making industry Central Quesera Montesinos (Spain), the technology center AIMPLAS (Spain) and the packaging company EMBALNOR (Portugal).

More sustainable packaging: Biodegradable and produced with less energy resources

Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is a completely biodegradable bioplastic obtained from fermentation by microorganisms. Most commercial plastics are synthetic polymers derived from petrochemicals, and are very difficult to biodegrade. In that sense, the use of bioplastics such as PHB, biodegradable and from renewable sources (bio-based), represents a significant step towards achieving more sustainable packaging.

First results of Wheypack

First of all, to achieve this bioplastic there were identified and characterized the different types of whey coming from the production processes of the different varieties of cheeses of Central Quesera Montesinos. There were selected those which presented best aptitudes to carry out the fermentative bioprocess.

Moreover, through the application of bioproduction technologies, the research team of AINIA has been able to produce PHB (bioplastic material). The obtained PHB is being compounded and additivated in AIMPLAS to improve their properties to be used as food packaging material.

Currently, EMBALNOR is proceeding to design and develop the final package with this additivated bioplastic material. These PHB packages will have the same features of traditional petroleum-based plastic packages, but with a smaller carbon footprint.

About 40% of whey is discarded and managed as waste in the food industries

The whey from the milk and cheese processing, is an abundant surplus for the European dairy industry. Only in Europe, it is estimated an annual production of 75 million tons of whey from cheese makers. Despite some of this product again returns to the food chain for manufacturing other dairy products, about 40% of whey is discarded and managed as waste in the food industries.

This large amount of whey surplus causes a problem for companies in the dairy sector. With this project, the dairy industry can make a profit from their own waste, by means of the obtaining of PHB packages designed to suit the needs of their products and being economically profitable too.

wheypack life PHB-based packaging from whey

Life project – LIFE13 ENV/ES/000608

Inma Gonzalvo (114 articles)


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Inma Gonzalvo
Marketing y Comunicación

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