Tailoring the Barrier Properties of PLA: A State-of-the-Art Review for Food Packaging Applications
It is now well recognized that the production of petroleum-based packaging materials has created serious ecological problems for the environment due to their resistance to biodegradation. In this context, substantial research efforts have been made to promote the use of biodegradable films as sustainable alternatives to conventionally used packaging materials. Among several biopolymers, poly(lactide) (PLA) has found early application in the food industry thanks to its promising properties and is currently one of the most industrially produced bioplastics. However, more efforts are needed to enhance its performance and expand its applicability in this field, as packaging materials need to meet precise functional requirements such as suitable thermal, mechanical, and gas barrier properties. In particular, improving the mass transfer properties of materials to water vapor, oxygen, and/or carbon dioxide plays a very important role in maintaining food quality and safety, as the rate of typical food degradation reactions (i.e., oxidation, microbial development, and physical reactions) can be greatly reduced. Since most reviews dealing with the properties of PLA have mainly focused on strategies to improve its thermal and mechanical properties, this work aims to review relevant strategies to tailor the barrier properties of PLA-based materials, with the ultimate goal of providing a general guide for the design of PLA-based packaging materials with the desired mass transfer properties.