The LIFE WHEYPACK project (LIFE13 ENV/ES/000608) has synthesised the first bioplastic material to be made from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. The project succeeded in producing polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) through a fermentation bioprocess of whey.
The process could solve the problem of what to do with excess whey derived from the making of cheese and thus potentially boost the circular economy. It will enable the diary industry to profit from the production of new PHB biodegradable packaging tailored to the needs of their products.
The LIFE WHEYPACK project, which is based in Spain, was set up to demonstrate the environmental benefits of biodegradable food packaging, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in comparison with current non-renewable, petrol-based food packaging materials. It is demonstrating how PHB obtained from whey surplus could replace traditional plastics in the packaging of dairy products and thus offer significant economic advantages. PHB packaging has the same characteristics as petroleum-based plastic packaging and is suitable for use in cheese packaging.
The project is being coordinated by AINIA, a non-profit industry association, in partnership with the cheese industry (Central Quesera Montesinos), AIMPLAS, a Spanish technological centre, and Embalnor, a Portuguese packaging company.
The European dairy industry produces an abundant surplus of whey from milk and cheese processing. The annual production of whey from cheese makers is estimated to be 75 million tonnes. Around 40% of this whey is disposed of as waste, while some is returned to the food chain for the production of other dairy products.