So you're a cheese maker and you find yourself left with an excess amount of leftover whey from your production. What do you do with it? Dump it? No way! Food technology and production experts in Spain have come up with a new way to reduce whey waste. Technology center, AINIA, in a joint effort with Central Quesera Montesinos Aimplas and Embalnor in Portugal, have created the first bioplastic material exclusively made from the whey that's leftover from cheese making.
Not familiar with whey? It's the cloudy liquid that collects on yogurt and can be used as a protein additive in smoothies. It contains nutritious protein and lactose. And when sprayed onto something like plastic wrap, the thin, flexible layer that forms creates a protective substance for food against oxygen and moisture.
The initiative to turn this whey into a bioplastic is called Wheypack, and is a result of growing concerns about the increase in whey byproduct waste created by the cheese industry. It's estimated that 75 million tons of whey is being dumped in Europe every year, with 40 percent of it being handled as waste. The goal is to show the dairy industry that whey can be used in different ways, and can bring in new profits. Biobased and biodegradable, Wheypack packaging will be able to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in addition other benefits including product protection and economic viability.
In order to find what would work best in the project, researchers were tasked with identifying and characterizing the types of whey coming from a variety of cheese. The next step was to established which whey byproduct worked best in the fermentation bioprocess. Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is then harvested from the fermentation bioprocess, the key factor in creating more sustainable packaging for food. A final product is in the works and the implications of such innovative packaging are major. It will be interesting to see how the packaging reduces whey waste in cheese making and also hopefully in other food industries around the world.