The research undertaken by the Sustainable Packaging Research Group is aimed at increasing the overall effectiveness of packaging, reducing the environmental impact of packaging and minimising packaging waste. 

Our mission is to provide a local, national and international focus for scientific research aimed at developing environmentally sound and optimised solutions to support the distribution of products and produce in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Close up shot of styrofoam and cardboard packaging waste.

Research expertise

The Sustainable Packaging Research Group is part of the Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities, and has strong links with the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies and the College of Sport, Health and Engineering with expertise in:

  • Environmental shock and vibration
  • Distribution and transport dynamics
  • Packaging performance testing and evaluation 
  • Optimised and engineered protective packaging
  • Bio-based and biodegradable polymers
  • Polymer and analytical chemistry
  • Antimicrobial and antioxidant food packaging
  • Economic modelling of packaging waste
  • Economic analysis incorporating circular economy principles

Our research

See details of our current research projects below:

Our research targets ways to better understand vibrations generated by transport vehicles, so that they can be better managed leading to reduction in over packaging and scientific means to optimize protective packaging.

Our team have been developing new and novel materials for packaging with a focus on antimicrobial films for extended shelf-life of food products. In recent years, the emphasis has shifted towards bio-based and biodegradable polymers. Some examples of our research in this area are provided below.

 

Incorporation of essential oil extracts into LDPE film to impart antimicrobial activity:

The extracts studied include thymol, carvacrol, and linalool which are obtained from plant species such as thyme, basil and oregano. The levels of the extracts were varied and were also tested in combination. As suite of physico-mechanical and antimicrobial inhibitory tests were performed to optimise the formulations.

 

Inhibition of S. aureus by extruded LDPE films with and without thymol.

 

Starch-based films coated with antimicrobial agents for extended shelf-life of cheese:

In this work, thermoplastic starch films were prepared using different levels of carvacrol, thymol and linalool. Physico-mechanical, migration and inhibitory tests were conducted, and the films were also tested using cheese samples.

 two examples, the first with no mould growth, the second with clearly visible mould growth

Example of mould inhibition of carvacrol coated starch film (upper image) and significant mould growth when carvacrol was not coated on the film (lower image).
 
 
Polylactic acid/kenaf fibre composites containing thymol:
In this work, PLA composites were formed by combining natural plant fibres and essential oil extract thymol which imparted both antimicrobial activity and a plasticizing effect. The prepared composites were optimised for the best overall composition and were shown to inhibit fungal growth on processed chicken with 40 wt% kenaf and 10 wt% thymol.

Inhibition of mould growth on processed chicken is evident after 24 days when the PLA/kenaf composite contains thymol.

 

Microencapsulation of thymol in beta-cyclodextrin for controlled release from LDPE film:

One of the challenges using essential oil extracts is their volatility during high temperature processing required to produce films. This work optimised the encapsulation of thymol in BCD to both protect thymol from loss during processing, and to enable its controlled release. The films produced were effective in extending the shelf-life of ground beef.

Influence of ethanol content on the encapsulation efficiency of thymol in BCD showing that <10% ethanol is optimal (left image). Molecular representation (right image) of BCD in the centre, thymol, ethanol, and water molecules.

 

Semi-refined carrageenan films for packaging applications:

Seaweed extracts such as carrageenan can be easily formed into biodegradable films. This work used a semi-refined carrageenan which is less expensive than the more refined type. Films were prepared and optimised based on levels of plasticiser, the addition of nanocellulose and nanoclay, coating with polycaprolactone, and crosslinking agent.

Addition of nanocellulose fibrils (NCF) into semi-refined carrageenan (SRC) and refined carrageenan (RC). The trends show the influence of NCF on various properties related to hydrophilicity with the SRC generally more hydrophilic than RC. The inclusion of NCF into both types slightly improving the moisture and barrier properties.

 

Other studies:

Have investigated ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) films incorporated with green tea and oregano extracts, and red beet extracts; polypropylene/polyethylene terephthalate laminated films impregnated with olive leaf extract; and hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose films containing PLA/green tea extract nanoparticles.

It is often the case that road surface aberrations are the main cause of product damage during road transport. This research is aimed at developing a reliable and practical technique to automatically detect the presence of shocks within random vibrations, so that they can be taken into account in the design of packaging systems.

The spreadsheet below describes the conditions and parameters for a range of vibration data collected from road vehicles during typical operation.

Data was collected from a variety of vehicle types, suspension types, payloads and route types.

Most of the data was collected by Victoria University and will be continually updated.

If you wish to access the raw data files or make a contribution to the data base, please email [email protected].

Access the spreadsheet

The team has investigated and prepared a report on the investment case for the Circle 8 system.

Circle 8 System Investment Case

The proposed Circle 8 system seeks to address the issue of low recovery rates and packaging waste in Australia through tracking data and smart bins.

The aim is to enable greater recovery rates and increase recycling. This will reduce the amount of material sent to landfill, with environmental benefits.

The system provides an online platform to track individual items using barcodes, NFC microchips or QR codes. This will enable greater sorting efficiency and reduced contamination, by:

  • providing incentives to consumers to dispose of the packaging correctly
  • creating smart bins that only accept the correct type of item.

Recycling sorting facilities may benefit from decreased sorting costs, increased recovery rates and decreased contamination rates.

Loyalty programs are included in the Circle 8 system to encourage consumers to participate in the scheme and place their packaging in the smart bins, as opposed to general waste.

For this report, a base case scenario for packaging POM and recovered in Australia was developed, with results forecast out to 2050. Results were estimated using reported values, and expected growth rates for rigid plastics, glass and metal in an unchanged policy scenario.

This base case was then compared to a systematic implementation of the Circle 8 system.

Estimates were made of the cost of the Circle 8 system and its effectiveness in diverting rigid plastics, glass and metal from landfill. These were incorporated into modelling framework, used to calculate the reduction in landfill disposal and the increased recovery rate achieved, relative to the base case.

The Circle 8 system is projected to recover more than 670,000 tonnes per annum than the base case by 2050, an increase of 23% for the recovered materials modelled.

This comprises over 360,000 tonnes of plastic, 200,000 tonnes of glass and 107,000 tonnes of metal per annum by 2050.

It's estimated that from 2024 to 2050, the Circle 8 system will have prevented a total 12.7 million tonnes of materials from going to landfill.

The costs and funding of the system could potentially lead to the elimination of local government kerbside collection costs, due to packaging brand funding for each item.

Postgraduate research opportunities

Opportunities exist for undertaking postgraduate research (masters or PhD) within the Sustainable Packaging Research Group. A diverse range of projects is available, including the following:

  • Development of statistical models for the characterisation of distribution vibrations
  • Development of sophisticated techniques for the analysis and simulation of transport vibrations
  • Development of inexpensive and effective packaging materials
  • Development of techniques for the performance characterisation of environmentally friendly packaging materials
  • Development of novel methods for determining the progression of damage in packaging elements during distribution
  • Use of strain mapping (using high-speed digital image correlation) to optimise cushioning systems for impact absorption
  • Development of testing facilities to measure biodegradability of packaging materials
  • Development of methods of quality assessment of fresh and processed produce
  • Development of antimicrobial and antioxidant packaging systems
  • Study of migration chemicals and nanoparticles from packaging
  • Development of biodegradable bio-composite materials for packaging
  • Development of information technology systems to enable groups of people to contribute to joint decision making in the distribution and handling industries
  • Packaging accessibility, ease-of-use and security
  • Applied economic analysis of packaging impacts through a circular economy framework

Find out about scholarships for research students.

 

Research facilities

The research group has a range of specialised equipment to facilitate research collaborations and testing for industry.

Specialised equipment includes:

  • large vibration table for transportation simulation
  • programmable shock generator
  • large compression testing machine
  • free-fall drop tester
  • cushion tester
  • environmental chambers
  • environmental data recorders.
  • vibrations shakers
  • universal testing machines
  • signal analysers
  • data recorders
  • high-speed camera
  • thermal imaging camera
  • a wide range of sensors and transducers.

Specialised equipment includes:

  • infrared and fluorescence spectrophotometers
  • thermal analysis (DSC, TGA)
  • crystallinity (XRD)
  • gas and liquid chromatographs
  • compression moulding press
  • programmable ovens/furnaces
  • capillary rheometer
  • elemental analysis
  • scanning electron microscope with EDS
  • universal testing machines with specialised high-strain non-contact extensometer for polymers
  • hardness testing machines
  • ovens and incubators
  • rheometer
  • zetasizer
  • texture analyser.

Researchers

Read about our research student projects, and find contact details for our research staff.

Name Phone and email Research interests
Professor Vincent Rouillard
Group Leader
+61 3 9919 4602
[email protected]
Analysis and synthesis of random processes with applications in environmental shock and vibrations, pavement topography, transport dynamics and protective packaging.
Dr Marlene Cran
Deputy Leader
+61 3 9919 7642
[email protected]
Polymers and membrane systems including the development of antimicrobial materials for food packaging. Marlene is also involved with the development of biodegradability and migration tests for packaging materials.
Professor Stephen Bigger +61 3 9919 2959
[email protected]
Polymer degradation and stabilisation with numerous commissioned research and consultancy assignments for both government and industry.

Dr Chitra DeSilva

[email protected] 

Corporate governance and performance, Corporate reporting, Environmental social and governance disclosure, Public sector governance, Auditing and assurance. 

Dr Matthew Lamb +61 3 9919 5591
[email protected]
Mechanical Vibrations, Packaging Dynamics and Structural Integrity Assessment.
Associate Professor Nick Sciulli [email protected] Public sector accounting/management, Sustainability, Disclosures of financial and non-financial data by organisation.
Dr John Symons +61 3 9919 1457
[email protected]
Economic analysis, Packaging waste economics, Environmental economics, Analysis and modelling of road safety and education.
Associate Professor Maxwell Winchester  +61 3 9919 4618 [email protected]  Consumer behaviour, Integrated marketing communication, qualitative and quantitative research methods, empirical generalisationalist research methods, behaviourist consumer behaviour theories. 

 

Research projects by current and recent postgraduate students include the following.

Postgraduate research students

Name Thesis topic
Bakti Sedayu (PhD, completed 2020) Development of Semi-Refined Kappa-Carrageenan-Based Films for Food Packaging Applications
Ghofran Al-nasiri (PhD, completed 2019) Microencapsulation of natural antimicrobial agents to minimize loss in packaging films.
Julien Lepine (PhD, completed 2018) Decomposition of mixed-mode random signals for improved simulation of vibration produced by wheeled vehicles.
Michael Long (M.Eng., completed 2016) Investigation of pitch, roll and heave motion of transport vehicles.
Daniel Ainalis (PhD, completed 2015) Estimating vehicle dynamic characteristics from in-service response data.
Nyamjav Terbish (masters) Improving the life of air filters operating in dusty environments.
Mohammad Aqeel Nazzal Saraireh (PhD) Heat transfer and condensation from humid air in a compact heat exchanger.
Kuorwel Kuorwel (PhD, completed 2012) Incorporation of natural antimicrobial agents into starch-based material for food packaging.
Intan Syafinaz Mohamed Amin Tawakkal (PhD, 2012) Characterization and Antimicrobial Activity of PLA and PLA/Kenaf Fiber Films with Natural Agents
Matthew Lamb (PhD, 2011) Monitoring the structural integrity of packaging materials subjected top sustained random loads
Hussein Mahanny Shehab (M.Eng. 2011) A study of creep characteristics of multi-layered corrugated fibreboard protective cushions.
J. B. Lasich (PhD 2010) The design and optimisation of a reflective concentrator photovoltaic generation system.
L. A. S. Rupika, (PhD 2009) Development and Evaluation of Antimicrobial Food Packaging Films Containing Natural Agents.
Anthony Parker (PhD, 2008) A method for the characterisation of the nonlinear vibration transmissibility of cushioning materials.
Chanun Rardniyom, (PhD, 2008) Multi-Coated Films Containing Natural Antimicrobial Agents.
Christopher Collins (PhD, 2008) Development of methods to access key sultana parameters at the processing line.
Murad Yusuf (PhD, 2007) Development of technology for the early detection of cold damage in oranges.
Archana Kolasani (PhD, 2006) Metal analyses of Chinese herbs related to kidney function.

Undergraduate honours students

Name Thesis topic
Richard Miller (2014) Evaluation of the performance of distribution shock detectors.
Ghofran Al-Nasiri (2013) Minimizing the Loss of Natural Antimicrobial Agents during the Thermal Processing of Food Packaging Films.
Courtney Bright (2013) Investigating the use of genetic algorithm for optimising cushion design.
Justin Milverton (2013) Evaluating the dynamic characteristics on biodegradable protective packaging.
Laurent Le Page (2012) Calibration of a single-wheel pavement profilometer.
Zoltan Kozak (2012) Evaluation of damage progression in protective packaging systems.
Daniel Ainalis (2011) Evaluation of signal analysis techniques for monitoring loss of structural integrity in engineering materials under random loads.

 

Contact us

Professor Vincent Rouillard
Leader, Engineered Packaging & Distribution Research Group
Phone: +61 3 9919 4602
Email: [email protected]

Dr Marlene Cran
Deputy Leader, Engineered Packaging & Distribution Research Group
Phone: +61 3 9919 7642
Email: [email protected]