Research

New packaging and recycling solutions reduce the environmental impact of takeaway food

RUOKO-hanke.
The RUOKO project of Tampere University of Applied Sciences and Tampere University engages in a wide-ranging co-operation to develop environmentally friendly packaging materials and new recycling solutions for takeaway food packaging.

The Universities’ RUOKO project launched in the Tampere Region aims to reduce the environmental impact of takeaway food with new solutions. It is important to promote the circular economy in takeaway food packaging.

Because people do not know how to sort it, takeaway packaging often ends up in the mixed waste in households.

“We are looking into possibilities for developing smart takeaway packaging. For example, a QR code could be included showing how the packaging should be recycled," says Tiina Wickman-Viitala, senior lecturer of business studies at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences.

The RUOKO project also strongly involves businesses and various other actors and partners with restaurants, and logistics, packaging, and IT companies. The idea is to support a wide range of businesses to secure and develop their businesses in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are engaging with a wide range of actors to identify real needs and challenges that call for solutions,” says Senior Research Fellow Johanna Lahti.

Better packaging materials are also developed

According to Lahti, the aim is to find more environmentally friendly packaging options. Currently, fossil-based plastics are the dominant materials used in food packaging especially because of their good protective properties.

“One of the challenges in finding new packaging materials is that they should be able to provide sufficient protection for such a sensitive product as food. One of the things new packaging should thus have is good food preservation properties,” Lahti says.

More environmentally friendly alternatives to packaging materials have already been developed from eg biodegradable plastic, and work is in progress on wood-based solutions. The RUOKO project will start by mapping existing packaging solutions and their potential challenges.

“This will enable us to propose alternative or better material or packaging solutions,” Lahti explains.

The project also has the potential to consider logistics

In addition to packaging and recycling solutions, the RUOKO project will focus on the logistics of takeaway food. For example, ordering takeaway food from home can cause unnecessary environmental pollution especially if food is delivered to the same place but only to different customers several times a day.

“The home delivery of food could be harmonised, for example, with an ice-cream van type delivery solution that circulates around the block, from which people could collect the food they have ordered. This would reduce the environmental impact of separate transport," Wickman-Viitala says.

The Board of the Council of Tampere Region allocated government and European Regional Development Fund funding to the RUOKO project. The project, which will run until the end of August 2023, supports the objectives of the regional programme and the smart specialisation strategy. The objectives are to channel the know-how of universities to regional businesses and to promote low carbon solutions as a competitive business advantage to generate environmental benefits.

“We aim to ensure that the solutions developed in the project are both consumer-friendly and profitable for businesses,” says Wickman-Viitala.

Text: Nelli Peltonen
Photograph: Unsplash

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