Waitrose looks to Welsh ryegrass for greener packaging
Two Welsh universities have partnered with Waitrose to deliver a research project using Welsh ryegrass to create sustainable food packaging.
The Sustainable Ryegrass Products (STARS) initiative will be jointly led by the BioComposites Centre at Bangor University and the Institute of Biological Environmental & Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University, and informed by industry partners including Waitrose.
Funding of almost £600,000 from the Welsh Government's Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) programme is supporting the project, which will see a bio-refining process used to isolate and extract sugars and other components from ryegrass and convert them into low carbon products.
These will include biofuels, platform chemicals and pulp-moulded packaging products for retail applications such as food packaging.
The project will collaborate with six industrial partners representing all links in the SME supply chain - from biomass cultivation and harvesting to processing and commercial end-use - and will demonstrate the production of these materials at a pilot scale.
To inform the process, Waitrose will research public engagement in the bio-economy and the adoption of green products.
Waitrose's head of sustainability Quentin Clarke said that there were natural synergies between the project and the retailer's approach to reducing its environmental footprint.
"Moving to easily recycled fibre-based packaging for foods, where this can show positive environmental benefit, is something we're keen to develop," he said.
"A key element of this project will be engaging with the public from an early stage to ensure we are delivering solutions that meet their needs. We look forward to trialling prototypes with key stakeholders."
Dr Adam Charlton, of Bangor University's Bio-composites Centre, added that a key objective of the project will be to create products with a lower carbon output than those produced from oil.
"Activating a green industry in this way is a global aim and we hope to demonstrate an integrated approach to land utilisation," he explained.
"We don't want to displace existing agricultural activity, but aim to provide farmers with an opportunity to diversify and find alternative applications for surplus grass produced in the UK."