The biospife – a novel tool produced through a partnership between ZESPRI and Scion – is made from bioplastic material that incorporates kiwifruit residues. It’s designed to be composted along with the skins when you’ve finished eating the kiwifruit.
Identifying the opportunity
The idea to improve the ZESPRI spife by replacing the conventional petrochemical-based plastic material with bioplastic material emerged when ZESPRI began exploring ways to reduce their environmental impact.
As part of their strategic and business planning, ZESPRI commissioned an assessment of sustainability risks and opportunities. At the same time, Scion was undertaking biomass waste residue surveys of New Zealand.
Results from two reports in particular contributed to identifying the opportunity to develop the biospife:
- A study of the kiwifruit waste streams showed that the industry generated approximately 50 000 tonnes of waste biomass in New Zealand each year from reject fruit and fruit processing, such as juicing. (This amount would fill the equivalent of about 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.)
- A life cycle assessment (LCA) study showed that the original plastic spife contributed about 3% to ZESPRI’s total carbon footprint.
Improving an existing product
ZESPRI developed the original spoon-knife, or spife, in the late 1990s as a convenient disposable tool for cutting and scooping out kiwifruit for eating. It was designed to sell with packs of kiwifruit as a convenient and novel tool to help promote and establish the ZESPRI brand.
Like other conventional plastic products, the spife is made from non-renewable resources and is not compostable. Once used, it’s usually thrown away. The development of the biospife addresses these sustainability issues.
Spife: original features
Biospife: improved features
Two utensils in one – spoon-knife includes cutting edge and spoon shape.
Made from bioplastic material using renewable plant resources including kiwifruit waste fruit that is food grade safe.
Small and lightweight.
Incorporates kiwifruit residues, creating a higher-value use for excess fruit.
Made from conventional plastic in bright green and yellow colours to reflect fruit flesh colour.
Compostable in an industrial composting facility.
Ergonomic shape for easy use.
Increased flexing strength from inclusion of kiwifruit residues makes it less brittle.
Brown colour created by kiwifruit skins gives natural appearance.
Meeting consumer demand
The improved features of the biospife help address growing demand for more sustainable materials as well as meeting increasing regulation on waste disposal.
ZESPRI supplies large overseas markets where the demand for sustainable materials is stronger than it currently is in New Zealand. Retailers in these overseas markets need to meet stricter regulations limiting the amount of waste they can send to landfill, and there are penalties if they exceed these amounts. These countries also tend to have more advancedcurre infrastructure (such as industrial composting) available to support alternative options for waste disposal.
A collaborative process
Collaboration has been critical in providing the diverse knowledge and skills needed to develop the biospife. ZESPRI drew on a range of organisations to provide specialist knowledge and skills at various stages. They formed a partnership with Scion, who provided the knowledge and expertise in bioplastics material development. Later in the project, Alto, the original spife manufacturer, provided expertise in commercial-scale plastics manufacture.
A significant step in bioplastic development
The significance of the biospife goes far beyond the tool itself. The biospife is a demonstration that fruit waste can be successfully incorporated into a bioplastic material for use on standard plastics processing equipment.
The success of this project contributes to New Zealand’s increasing knowledge and capability in the area of bioplastics. It highlights the potential for other products using horticultural waste streams in other New Zealand industries.
ZESPRI’s vision is to develop packs of kiwifruit where the entire package and its contents (once eaten) can be disposed of in an industrial composting facility. Scion is investigating how packaging materials could be replaced with the kiwifruit bioplastic. The current fruit residue bioplastic would need further development to make a bioplastic that can be made into a thin plastic film suitable for packaging.
Find out more about Scion’s bioplastics research on the Scion website.