GLOPACK, the project that wowed the Étoiles de l'Europe jury

Valérie Guillard, researcher at the Agropolymer Industry and Emerging Technologies Laboratory (IATE), has been awarded Europe's Stars for Research and Innovation for her GLOPACK project, which explores low environmental impact food packaging.


In its day, it was a minor revolution in the food industry. Lightweight, malleable and economical, plastic quickly became a packaging panacea. It was Lesieur who made the breakthrough, launching the first PVC bottle on the market in 1963. " The extraordinary properties of plastic have made a considerable contribution to the development of the food industry, notably by maximizing the shelf life of products, which has represented a considerable economic gain ", explains Valérie Guillard, a researcher at the IATE laboratory.

Environmental concerns

Sixty years on, the challenge lies elsewhere, for plastic is everywhere. In the oceans, in rivers, at the top of glaciers, in the bodies of animals, in mother's milk. Macro, micro or nano, not a month goes by without finding plastic in places where we wouldn't want it. "Environmental concern about the pollution generated by plastic packaging emerged in the 2000s, and from this emerged the need to develop other types of packaging with a lower environmental impact ".

This is the essence of the GLOPACK project, for which Valérie Guillard was awarded the jury's special " Stars of Europe" prize for coordinators of European research and innovation projects. This is a triply innovative project, as it takes up three key challenges: tomorrow's packaging will be biosourced and biodegradable, active and intelligent.

Biosourced and biodegradable

While the recipe for this bioplastic made in Montpellier remains a secret, the ingredients can be revealed. " The packaging we have developed consists of a polymer derived from the fermentation of residues from the fruit juice industry, and cellulose fibers", explains Valérie Guillard. By formulating the whole according to a skilful protocol and assembling it using innovative technologies, the researchers obtain a material that looks like a brother to plastic, in a totally biodegradable version.

This polyhydroxyalkanoate, or PHA, meets this first challenge with flying colors. " Our objective is to achieve ultimate biodegradation under natural conditions, i.e. in the soil or in domestic compost , for example", adds the researcher, adding that it can also be reused. The result is a material that does not accumulate in the environment, reducing the ecological footprint of packaging.

Active and intelligent

The icing on the cake: this packaging, the result of work at the IATE laboratory, is both active and intelligent. " Active because it improves food preservation and shelf life without the use of additives ". And intelligent, because it integrates RFID indicators of food spoilage, " like a new generation of self-adjusting expiration date labels, an essential asset for reducing food loss and waste ", explains the specialist.

Beyond the technological aspect, the GLOPACK project also aims to put in place a marketing strategy integrating the deployment of decision-support software tools, communication activities, business plans and sustainability scores. " To this end, we have developed software tools designed to help food industry professionals, taking into account multiple criteria such as the material used, its benefits in use and its post-use. The researchers have come up with a " packaging score " which, like the Nutriscore, enables tested materials to be rated for easier comparison. " This work on scoring is crucial, and goes further than the existing plastic footprint indices ".

When will a GLOPACK tray appear on supermarket shelves? " The idea behind the project was, of course, to transfer technology to industry. We hope that, after another 2 or 3 years of development, our industrial partners will be able to market packaging resulting from the GLOPACK project ," concludes Valérie Guillard. A real, tangible impact for this project, which won over the Stars of Europe jury.