The Fresh Produce Impact Hub (FRESHPPACT)

Background Information

The Fresh Produce Impact Hub (FRESHPPACT) is a platform that facilitates research and development into the shared environmental challenges facing the fresh produce industry, specifically those with food supply chains rooted in developing or emerging economies. FRESHPPACT is made up of a consortium with members including Blue Skies, Waitrose & Partners, HPW Fresh and Dry, and Primafruit. The University of Northampton’s Centre for Sustainable Business Practices is the Coordinating Research and Project Management Partner.

The Hub provides a platform for business and industry consortia to identify and evaluate solutions to shared sustainability challenges in the sector, including pervasive single-use plastic packaging, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental pollution, and habitat loss associated with production and supply chain. The Hub works on a three-stage process. First, the challenges are identified and defined, and launched online as “Challenge Funds” accompanied by a Challenge Brief to guide open Calls for Proposals from a range of solution providers. Second, working with research partners, various solutions from across academia and the private sector are identified and evaluated. Finally, the Hub facilitates the provision of funding and technical support to the selected solution providers to enable the best solutions to be upscaled, commercialised and widely-adopted. The support provided includes a funding package of up to £33,000 for the initial work to design commercial trials, with further funding advanced for solutions with strong potential, as well as access to facilities to implement commercial trials/pilots. Once proven successful, Hub partners will assist with communication and visibility, thus promoting wider uptake of solutions in the sector.

Aligned to the SMEP Plastics Pollution Mitigation stream of work, the Hub’s first focus is plastics pollution mitigation, specifically on developing alternative solutions to plastic agricultural mulch, workwear and packaging used in the fresh produce industry in Ghana. In 2022, the Hub launched three Challenge Funds and engaged with over 150 stakeholders to finally select three solution providers:

  1. alternative solutions to plastic agricultural mulch by Coco 360,
  2. substitutes to plastic packaging used in the fresh produce industry by Kelpi, and
  3. plastic mulch lifting solution (e.g., machinery) by Data Solution Hub.

Additionally, there is an important policy component to this project which aims to support the Government of Ghana’s efforts on policy development related plastic pollution. This includes the development of research papers focusing on collection facilities infrastructure, amongst others, to strengthen plastic pollution enforcement, access to collection services, and trainings on how to turn plastic waste collection and management into a business opportunity.

Updates

Despite some challenges during the first few phases of this project, the FRESHPPACT Project is now on track with all solution providers’ projects progressing smoothly.

Coco 360 (biodegradablee agricultural mulch): Coco 360 is an agro-based manufacturing start-up that uses a new method of producing biodegradable mulch from coconut fibre/coir which are usually discarded. Coconut waste is in abundance in Ghana and is thus a reliable and cheap feedstock for the Coco 360 project. In the first few months of 2024, the team completed the development of the coconut coir-based mulch as well as experiments to determine the toxicity of the product and suitability of its design. The production and testing of the product is contributing to a larger Holistic Mulch project, undertaken by Blue Skies, comparing a variety of different mulch products (including the Coco 360 and CSIR biodegradable mulch prototype) on farms in Ghana. The Coco 360 project team also engaged with several small-scale fruit farmers in Ghana, all of whom showed strong interest in the product provided that it was economically feasible.

Kelpi (biodegradable packaging): Kelpi is a material innovation company which uses carbohydrates from seaweed to create biopolymers for biodegradable material with superior barrier properties to substitute plastic packaging. The project aims to revolutionise the fresh cut fruit industry by developing a prototype and piloting biomaterial packaging solutions for plastic-free fruit packaging. Kelpi was successfully contracted in 2024 as a solution provider and spent much of the initial months of the year focusing on developing the necessary project management tools and aligning stakeholder groups on the requirements, risks and focus for the next phases of their project. These stakeholders included chief marketing officers of different companies as part of Kelpi’s “go-to-market” strategy. A technical gap analysis was also undertaken to identify where Kelpi’s material requires further development as a variety of prototypes will likely need to be available for testing since the material needs to be resilient to sustain the whole supply chain process, from the factory in Ghana to the stores of Waitrose.

Data Solution Hub (plastic mulch lifting solution): is developing a mulch lifting solution tailored for pineapple farming to support Blue Skies supply chain farmers. The project aims to develop a mulch lifter that is able to recover up to 140 tonnes of plastic waste per 153.8 hectares (or 1.53 square km) and able to pick up plastic mulch pieces as small as 1 square cm. Two alternative designs are currently being developed for testing in different farming conditions, with the basic design consisting of steel-based machinery which can be attached to a tractor. As of 2024, the project was able to complete simulation testing of both designs. The project team are now in the process of searching for a suitable raw material supplier and will continue to optimise the design of their prototypes, conduct a pertinent life cycle analysis and carry out the testing of their prototypes. It is hoped that this solution will also prove useful for tackling the plastic pollution problem on Ghana’s beaches.

The FRESHPPACT project team is also working hard towards knowledge sharing and making recommendations on plastic waste policies. In April 2024, their paper on “Macro Impacts of Plastic Pollution in Ghana” was accepted for publication in Cambridge Prisms: Plastics. Additionally, during the visit to Ghana, the FRESHPPACT team with UNCTAD in attendance, met with the Ghana Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) to provide policy recommendations that can support innovation around the circular economy and the reduction of plastic pollution. It was agreed that the team would assist MESTI in reviewing (and providing recommendations where applicable) their circular economy policies and extended producer responsibility policies, coupled with capacity building later in 2024.

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