A European Union-funded research consortium is developing an industrial system for producing biodegradable plastics from whey separated from milk curd during cheese-making.

Around 30% of the 50 million tonnes of whey produced in Europe annually is currently discarded, and the WHEYPOL project is creating a process to synthesise the polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) generated from whey into plastic. These are biodegradable polyesters that WHEYPOL says could replace conventional packaging plastics. They eventually decompose in the soil, yielding only carbon dioxide and water.

Techniques being investigated include melt blow extrusion and injection moulding for conversion of the polyesters into environment-friendly films and containers.