Researchers from an Irish university are among a team from across Europe taking part in a €7 million project focused on reducing single-use plastic waste by increasing food packaging reuse.

The Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) is one of 19 members of BUDDIE-PACK, a multi-national consortium of packaging manufacturers, consumers, and logistics, cleaning and recycling experts from six European countries.

Dawn Meats is also part of the initiative which aims to help the European Union meet its sustainability targets.

Over the next three and a half years, researchers will examine the attitudes of consumers to packaging reuse and devise ways to promote acceptance of reusable food packing.

In tandem, the team will also develop new food packaging cleaning solutions to prevent contamination, while preserving its durability and enabling it to be reused up to 300 times.

Dr. Declan Devine, director of PRISM at TUS’s campus in Athlone. Image: Nathan Cafolla

Dr. Declan Devine, director of TUS’ PRISM research institute, believes that the project could drastically reduce the volume of single-use plastic waste in landfills.

“Food packaging plays an essential role in reducing food waste, enabling long food-shelf-life and preventing tampering,” he said.

“However, it is clear that our relationship with single-use plastic must change due to its negative effect on the environment.

“Due to the importance of the meat industry to the Irish economy, this research has the potential to remove millions of tonnes of single-use packaging from the environment,” he added.

The project is also expected to significantly reduce water and energy consumption and avoid the release of microplastics into the oceans.

Dr. Romina Pezzoli, applied packaging platform lead at the Applied Polymer Technology (APT) Gateway at TUS’s Athlone campus, said that the initiative will help Ireland and the EU meet sustainability targets.

“To tackle the plastic waste crisis, we need to approach the challenge from the design of new packaging systems; the development of reusable food packaging technologies is a key strategy.

“We will work together with Irish and European industry partners, research centres and consumer behavioural psychologists to progress the state of the art and to find a solution that involves all stakeholders,” Dr. Pezzoli said.