Growing relationship between universities and Waitrose to use Welsh grass for food packaging

Dr Joe Gallagher

Dr Joe Gallagher

21 March 2013

The Sustainable Ryegrass Products (STARS) project will be led by the BioComposites Centre at Bangor University and the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University and informed by industry partners including Waitrose.

Funding of almost £600,000 from the Welsh Government’s Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) programme is supporting the project, which will see a biorefining process used to isolate and extract sugars and other components from ryegrass and convert them into low carbon products.
These will include biofuels, platform chemicals and pulp-moulded packaging products for retail applications such as food packaging.
The project will collaborate with six industrial partners representing all links in the SME supply chain - from biomass cultivation and harvesting to processing and commercial end-use - and will demonstrate the production of these materials at a pilot scale.

To inform the process, Waitrose will research public engagement in the bioeconomy and the adoption of green products.
Quentin Clarke, Head of Sustainability at Waitrose, said: “Waitrose is working hard to use easy to recycle, sustainable materials for its packaging, so there is a natural synergy between this project and Waitrose’s approach to “Treading Lightly” and reducing its environmental footprint.
“Moving to easily recycled fibre-based packaging for foods, where this can show positive environmental benefit, is something we’re keen to develop and a key element of this project will be engaging with the public from an early stage to ensure we are delivering solutions that meet their needs. We look forward to trialling prototypes with key stakeholders.”

Minister for Economy Science and Transport, Edwina Hart AM, said: “It’s good to see two Welsh institutions working with such a wide range of partner businesses, both indigenous and multi-national, on a novel project with commercial potential.
“I am pleased the Academic Expertise for Business programme is supporting this collaborative working and partnership between industry and academia with the aim of developing and bringing new products to market.”

Dr Joe Gallagher from IBERS, Aberystwyth University commented ‘’The STARS project takes previous research in this area  to the next level which is a demonstration at commercially relevant scale using the BEACON ( pilot-scale facilities and working with a supply chain to bring this concept to the public’s attention.
“The project aligns with the UK government’s strategy on mitigation of climate change and need to support the rural economy.” STARS will also benefit from complementary research and innovation programmes such as BEACON focused on biorefining and bio-products from renewable feedstocks such as plants.

Dr Adam Charlton, of Bangor University’s Biocomposites Centre, welcomed the Welsh Government’s support for the project and said the complementary expertise of the two Welsh universities and industrial partners would be key to its success.   
He said: “A key objective of the project will be the creation of products with a lower carbon output than those produced from oil. Activating a green industry in this way is a global aim and we hope to demonstrate an integrated approach to land utilisation.
“We don’t want to displace existing agricultural activity, but aim to provide farmers with an opportunity to diversify and find alternative applications for surplus grass produced in the UK.
“Through forging relationships with world-class organisations with significant market insight, the project offers real possibility to commercialise a number of product streams from ryegrass.”