A group of students from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, has successfully developed biodegradable food wraps using discarded aquatic resources and guava leaves. These wraps possess both antibacterial properties and are edible.
Explaining the product concept, team member Le Yen Nhi highlighted the pressing environmental concern of plastic waste, particularly food packaging. Vietnam disposes of around 1.8 million tons of waste annually, with food packaging accounting for nearly 44% of plastic waste. This poses significant environmental threats to humans, animals, and plants. In response, the team aimed to produce food wraps with excellent biodegradability.
Yen Nhi shared that the primary materials for this innovation are chitosan and guava leaves. Chitosan, derived from the second-largest waste source globally known as chitin, is abundant in the exoskeletons of crustaceans. Yen Nhi stated, "Vietnam is a major seafood exporter globally, resulting in a substantial amount of shrimp shells and heads. These byproducts can be fully utilized to create valuable economic assets." Chitosan is known for its ability to inhibit various microorganisms, including Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, as well as fungi, especially those commonly found in food like Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella typhimurium. Hence, chitosan is considered a safe material suitable for human use.
The two ingredients used by the team to create the food wraps. Photo: NNC
In addition to chitosan, guava leaves, an underutilized bioactive waste material, offer multiple biological benefits, including antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Leveraging these properties, the team chose chitosan and guava leaves as the main materials for their biodegradable food wrap. Guava leaf extract was obtained by drying and grinding fresh guava leaves. The resulting bioactive compounds (polysaccharides, flavonoids, etc.) were combined with chitosan and other appropriate components to create the wraps.
These wraps exhibit excellent biodegradability, water resistance, antibacterial properties, and antioxidant activity, safeguarding against cross-contamination and oxidative deterioration of food when exposed to air.
The research group commenced their project during their first year, meticulously surveying raw materials, methods, and equipment needed for the study. Nearly two years were dedicated to conducting experiments, testing product characteristics, and publishing their first scientific paper titled "Fabrication of antimicrobial edible films from chitosan incorporated with guava leaf extract" in the Q1 journal "Progress in Organic Coatings" on June 22, 2023, with an IF of 6.6.
Food wraps created by the team. Photo: NNC
According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Huynh Ky Phuong Ha (Faculty of Chemical Engineering, Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology), the outstanding features of the wrap include its edibility and high antibacterial capacity. Unlike conventional wraps that mainly serve as a barrier against external air to prevent oxidation, these wraps extend the shelf life of food by incorporating these additional properties.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ha believes that the product holds high commercial potential on an industrial scale at a reasonable cost.
However, Dr. Ha suggests that to facilitate commercialization, the team should further refine certain aspects. For instance, they could explore mechanical modifications to create suitable thin or thick wrap layers. "Additionally, the research findings could be expanded into various directions, such as combining modified starch to enhance the wraps' flexibility or adjusting ingredient ratios to meet specific preservation requirements for different types of food," Dr. Ha recommended.
The team's project was also awarded first place in the "Bach Khoa Innovation" competition VI-2023, organized by the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology in July.