By 2046 it is estimated that Victoria’s use of resources will almost double and our waste generation will increase by about 40 percent. To limit the impacts of this growth, we need to produce more with less and create less waste.

The project will provide solutions for reducing the consumption of single-use packaging materials and the creation of new alternatives using agricultural by-products and other waste materials.

This research will:

  • reduce solid waste pollution
  • reduce the costs associated with landfill disposal and pollution clean-up
  • reduce transport volume and costs leading to reductions in retail prices
  • support the circular economy and create economic activity and jobs in regional areas
  • help Victoria achieve its climate targets of net zero emissions by 2050.
  VU RISE researcher investigates creating boards and flexible trays from agricultural wastes and residues.

Project overview

The VU Rise project is funded through the Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund in collaboration with Victoria University.

The Australian Government has set a target for 100% of packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

The Sustainable Packaging Solutions project focuses on optimising the packaging processes and material efficiencies. This will reduce material consumption and the impacts of packaging materials on the environment. Minimising packaging can also save energy, materials and transportation costs, benefiting the economy.

The project is primarily based on designing eco-friendly packaging materials that can be used to transport fragile and/or food products. Our main goal is to reduce and replace the use of conventional cushioning materials, such as non-degradable foam packaging, with materials derived from agricultural wastes and by-products that are more readily degradable in the environment.

The project is comprised of the following three main aspects:

  1. Create biopackaging materials that are completely biodegradable and sustainable in nature by using local agricultural wastes or by-products. Characterisation of the materials will be performed using conventional methods (physical, chemical, mechanical), through to end-of-life testing (compostability, environmental degradation).
  2. Develop and apply novel methods to characterise and simulate the random shocks and vibrations that occur during the transportation of packaged goods. Techniques for analysing and characterising random vibrations and shocks generated by road transport vehicles that are prone to induce damage to product and produce will be developed and evaluated.
  3. Evaluate the economic impact of packaging wastes including an economic analysis of environmental and social impacts, and further evaluate the impacts of the newly developed materials to compare the overall benefits with conventional packaging materials.

The sustainable packaging research group at VU is seeking industry partners to undertake collaborative research toward sustainable packaging and packaging optimization. For more information, contact [email protected] or [email protected].

Industry collaboration

Bio-packaging materials updates

Our team's current activities include the following:

The extraction of plant proteins is a global growth industry. Yellow peas are an excellent source of proteins but there is a significant waste stream generated during processing. Crude pea starch is the main component and our team is currently developing flexible films utilising this waste material:

  • stage 1 consist of optimising the addition of plasticisers to ensure the films are flexible and strong.
  • stage 2 involves investigating the use of cross-linking agents to improve the water resistance of the films which are inherently hydrophilic.

 Films from waste pea starch

Films from waste pea starch.

A large amount of produce grown on farms is unsuitable for sale for many reasons. These materials can be sent to other farms as animal feed, can be composted, or can end up in landfill where their decomposition can result in the release of methane gas.

Our team is working to develop techniques to utilise these materials and produce packaging trays and boards.

 VU RISE team stand in front of produce packaging trays and boards.

VU RISE team stand in front of produce packaging trays and boards.

Celery wastes (whole unsellable stalks and leaves) are high in cellulose so we are developing a new type of thin board or tray.

Zucchini wastes are also high in fibre and we are developing a more flexible material that may be a suitable tray insert to separate produce.

Iceberg lettuce is similarly fibrous and we are investigating options to partially dry the leaves and laminate them to form a non-loadbearing cushioning materials or boards.

 VU RISE researcher investigates creating boards and flexible trays from agricultural wastes and residues.

VU RISE researcher investigates creating boards and flexible trays from agricultural wastes and residues.

Mycelium is the root structure of mushrooms and fungi that is comprised of natural interconnected filaments called hyphae. This interconnected network can be tuned to grow a range of different items from bricks to furniture. We are currently working to develop packaging cushioning materials and foams by growing mycelium on a scaffold of agricultural wastes and residues.

We have successfully grown spores of oyster and reishi mushrooms that we are now using to colonise scaffolds of agricultural wastes to produce functional packaging materials.

 Cushioning materials from mycelium and sugarcane

Cushioning materials from mycelium and sugarcane.

Bagasse is the waste material that remains after the juice is extracted from sugarcane and it represents a significant waste source in Australia. Bagasse is now utilised as a renewable resource in various industries but its use as a cushioning material is relatively unexplored. Our work is developing techniques to treat bagasse fibres to facilitate the formation of foam or sponge-like structures that have the ability cushion vibration and impacts.

 

  • A review manuscript focusing on the recovery of agro-industrial wastes in Australia to achieve sustainable development in packaging and energy sectors is in progress.
  • A research proposal seeking funding from the Australian Research Council under the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) 2023 program is under consideration.
  • Our team is hosting and editing a special issue in the journal Sustainability (I.F. 3.251) entitled as Effective Production and Use of Bioenergy and Sustainable Packaging to Protect Our Environment.

 

Distribution hazards & packaging optimisation updates

The follow methods have been developed to characterise and simulate the random shocks and vibrations that occur during the transportation of packaged goods.

Experimental evaluation of various laboratory-based accelerated vibration testing methods is under way. Read the review paper “The case for reviewing transport test protocols” published in Packaging Technology and Science through the VU Research Repository.

Further research on this topic is being carried out by measuring the rate of deterioration (variations in natural frequency, stiffness and damping) of Regular Slotted Containers (RSC) subjected to random vibrations under load.

This work will lead to a research paper to be published in Packaging Technology and Science.

The team is also working towards the development of improved methods of vehicle vibration response synthesis. Read more in:

Packaging subjected to random vibration testing. Text overlay labels read: Response accelerometer, pneumatic bearing, excitation accelerometer, guided mass, cushion sample, vibration table.

Packaging subjected to random vibration testing. Text overlay labels on image read: response accelerometer, pneumatic bearing, excitation accelerometer, guided mass, cushion sample, vibration table.

Various sustainable cushioning materials are being developed and their impact absorbing and compostability characteristics will be evaluated in this research.

This research will lead to a paper revealing the comparative performance of bio-packaging systems.

The work will complement previous research on the evaluation of biodegradable loose-fill packaging: An evaluation of the mechanical performance of extruded wheat starch loose fill.

Various sustainable cushioning materials.

Samples of various cushioning materials.

An algorithm for automatically detecting shocks generated by road vehicles is being developed.

Transport Vibration Survey: Multi axis (heave, pitch and roll) vibration data has been (and continues to) be collected from a variety of road transport scenarios. Some characteristics of the heave, pitch and roll vibrations within urban delivery routes 

Vibration data is collected with programmable recorders that can record multi-axis data for up to 13 hours. This data will be analysed to further develop statistical models to characterise and predict vibration levels for various transport scenarios (vehicle type, suspension type, payload and road type), see:

This information will supplement our extensive Transport Vibration Database and will lead to a research paper that will be aimed at optimising laboratory tests (transport trials) that will lead to a reduction on over-packaging hence less packaging waste.

 A self-contained vibration recorder.

Economic analysis of packaging waste updates

Activities in this area include:

News & events

Industry forum on Sustainable Packaging

The team showcased their work in sustainable packaging at Auspack 2022, meeting with industry and presenting at the opening day seminar.

They delivered presentations on VU Rise research projects and plans for the Australian Packaging Innovation Laboratory, including:

  • packaging waste economics
  • bio-packaging
  • development of environmentally friendly cushions
  • shock detection
  • evaluating product damage during vibration testing
  • laboratory facilities
  • an introduction to our vibration data repository.

Research team

Other members of the research team

Dr Ashfaq Ahmed, Research Fellow – Biopackaging, [email protected]

Dr Ghofran Al-Nasiri, Research Assistant – Biopackaging, [email protected]

Isuru Kuruppu, Project Assistant – Distribution Hazards, [email protected]

Keshab Paudel, Project Assistant – Distribution Hazards, [email protected]

Dr Ghowsalya Mahendrarajah, Research Officer – Biopackaging, [email protected]

Dr Catherine Sullivan, Researcher – Distribution Hazards, [email protected]

Hamza Malik, Research Assistant – Distribution Hazards, [email protected]

Dr Mohammad Sadegh Taskhiri, Research Fellow – Waste Economics, [email protected]

Research papers

View our research team's publications below through the VU Research Repository:

  • Professor Vincent Rouillard, researcher at Institute for Sustainable Industries & Liveable Cities, specialises in environmental shock and vibrations, packaging and signal analysis.
    Find Vincent's recent publications.
  • Dr Matthew Lamb, researcher at Institute for Sustainable Industries & Liveable Cities, specialises in dynamics and vibration, transportation distribution hazards and protective packaging mechanical characterisation.
    Find Matthew's recent publications.
  • Dr Marlene Cran, Research Fellow at Institute for Sustainable Industries & Liveable Cities, specialises in active, antimicrobial and biodegradable packaging, degradation of polymer materials and the reuse and recycling of used and end-of-life desalination membrane elements.
    Find Marlene's recent publications.
  • Dr John Symons, Research Fellow at Institute for Sustainable Industries & Liveable Cities, specialises in environmental economics and sustainable development.
    Find John's recent publications.