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Research Project: Alleviating Specialty Crop Export Barriers to France with Home Compostable Stickers

Location: Bioproducts Research

Project Number: 2030-41000-068-007-A
Project Type: Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Dec 15, 2021
End Date: Dec 30, 2022

Addressing Export Barriers: To ensure access of US bulk specialty crop commodities to international markets, the goal of this team is to employ a comprehensive approach to developing home compostable PLU stickers – laboratory-based research, pilot testing and commercialization efforts coupled with robust outreach and education campaigns to facilitate adoption of practices that minimize packaging waste associated with the US exports of bulk commodities. The specific aims of this proposal are: Aim 1. Develop home compostable pressure sensitive adhesive for fresh produce labels, specifically for grapefruit and sweet potatoes, and acceptable under French Law 2020-105 on the fight against waste and circular economy. Aim 2. Investigate novel bio-based chemistries which can be developed into biodegradable, home compostable adhesives for fresh produce. Aim 3. Investigate alternative non-traditional environmentally friendly mechanisms to aid adhesion to fresh produce. Aim 4. Scale-up toward commercialization, PLU sticker constructs based on the findings from Aims 1, 2 and/or 3 that incorporate home compostable pressure sensitive adhesives onto home compostable face stocks. Aim 5. Conduct a series of virtual and on-site education and outreach activities to advance technologies compliant with the French Law 2020-105 on the fight against waste and circular economy.

There are currently no off-the-shelf laminate constructions that meet home compostable standards. Laminate constructions for produce labels include the face material (i.e., biofilms, papers and modified polysaccharides) which must be printed with sustainable, food-safe inks, and adhered to the produce surface with safe and environmentally benign adhesives. With France and other countries enacting bans on produce stickers and packaging, there is also lack of industry-wide understanding of how to comply with these legislative and regulatory changes. Therefore, the approach to achieve the specific aims of this proposal will be: Aim 1. To achieve this aim, researchers will first investigate polymers and/or chemistries that are known for their adhesive abilities. Since no off-the-shelf laminate constructions meet home compostable standards, new optimal formulations of potentially viable film/adhesive constructions will be created and tested, focusing on their adhesive properties (i.e., loop tack, shear, etc.) as well as their environmental safety and sustainability. For Aim 2, here we aim to test food-grade biopolymers, gelling agents, tackifiers and polysaccharides to see how well they will work as PLU adhesives. For Aim 3 the group will investigate technologies that use non-traditional techniques to improve adhesion or improve attraction of dissimilar materials; e.g., electrostatic interaction, surface modification of biopolymer films, both chemically and structurally, and nanostructured “suction cup” approaches. To achieve Aim 4, the best adhesive candidates that are shown to meet home compostability standards will be laminated onto home compostable face stocks and tested. For Aim 5, outreach specialists at the cooperator will conduct a series of workshops for the US exporters of specialty crops to France on technologies to facilitate adoption of compliant technologies. Parallel outreach efforts will focus on the domestic and French opinion leaders to familiarize them with technological advances that reduce packaging waste in the US specialty crops imported into France.