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As mentioned above, the increase in international trade is one of the causes of vector displacement. This problem includes the risks involved in transporting horticultural products and ornamental plants, which can carry insect eggs, larvae and adult insects. 

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is working in this direction to develop international standards for handling plants and horticulture products in international trade. Wood packaging used in this kind of transport is a route for the introduction and spread of pests. For this reason, the IPPC issued standard ISPM 15, which indicates how wood packaging and pallets must be treated to eliminate such organisms. However, this standard does not address freight transport in cardboard packaging, and corrugated cardboard boxes are the most widely used in transport and distribution of this type of product. Paper is not very nutritious for most insects, but the other materials used to make boxes, such as adhesives (gelatines and starches), provide them with nutrition and facilitate the spread of insects.  It is therefore necessary to find a treatment for cardboard packaging against vectors such as flies and mosquitoes. 

Bio-Vectors Project

There is currently no specific treatment for these vector-borne diseases. One of the most effective solutions for preventing and controlling these epidemics is to take action against the vector itself (e.g. mosquito, fly),  thus making preventive measures the best method of control. 

There are now many repellent substances that are effective against these vectors. However, a number of these substances are not suitable for food contact and are also unstable at different temperatures: they break down easily during the manufacturing and application processes, which makes them difficult to use in many sectors. 

The Bio-Vectors Project is tackling this problem and also addressing the need for treatment of cardboard packaging. To this end, work is underway to formulate a coating with insecticidal and repellent properties against flies and mosquitoes applied through flexographic printing to cardboard packaging. This coating will contain an active ingredient against insects to help reduce the spread of vectors in goods transport. 

The project presents different challenges. First, the coating must be suitable for food contact and comply with Commission Regulation 10/2011 on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. This makes it necessary to carry out an exhaustive search for natural active ingredients that comply with this regulation and are also highly effective fly and mosquito repellents and insecticides. A micro-encapsulation process that can withstand high corrugated cardboard processing temperatures has also been developed to protect the active ingredients and overcome the challenge of thermolability. The resulting microcapsules prevent the premature release of the biocidal active ingredient. Moreover, release is controlled to achieve long-lasting functionalized materials. A preliminary process before devising the formula for the coating involved optimizing the dispersion process of the microcapsules in different resins to achieve homogeneous, stable dispersion and reach the maximum load concentration within the viscosity requirements of the methodology to be applied (flexographic printing). Finally, based on the dispersion testing carried out, it was possible to obtain water-based formulations with a low VOC content that are highly stable over time. The Bio-Vectors Project will finish at the end of 2020. In these last few months, the coatings’ insecticidal and repellent capacity will be evaluated, and migration testing will be performed to determine its suitability for food contact. The goal is to obtain a biocidal cardboard packaging demonstrator with a repellence index of 85%, a mortality rate of more than 80%, and controlled release of the active ingredient at six months.  

AIMPLAS is a technology partner in the Bio-Vectors Project “Development of coatings with biocidal properties to prevent the spread of vectors in freight transport”. This project is being developed with three other companies (Laurentia, Pectro-Flexocolor and Smurfit Kappa) and has received funding from the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities under the Collaboration Challenges 2017 programme. This aid is co-financed by the European Union through ERDF funding with the aim of promoting technological development, innovation and quality research.