Here is Sebastian Singh, Senior EDI Fellow ’19, describing his current project.
Recently, I have taken up a project relating to biodegradable food packaging. Currently, there are two main problems with food packaging materials and methods, the first being the use of styrofoam; Styrofoam is manufactured by using HFCs, or hydrofluorocarbons, which have negative impacts on the ozone layer and global warming. Additionally, styrofoam contains styrene, which is labeled as a possible carcinogen, meaning it can directly hurt humans. Second, thousands of birds, turtles, marine mammals, and other wildlife are killed every year by discarded 6-pack rings. Some animals get entangled in the pack and it wraps around their beak or muzzle, preventing them from eating. While my project target more than just these problems, I have focused on these because they are, perhaps, the most urgent of the issues.
The market for such a project is expansive, considering that the global food packaging market size was estimated at USD 277.9 billion in 2017, and exhibits a compound annual growth rate of 5.1% over a ten-year period. Growing demand for packaged food by consumers owing to quickening pace of life and changing eating habits is expected to have a major impact on the industry. If biodegradable food-packaging options can be provided at a low cost, the market could be completely transformed.
Thus far, I have been engaged in material research and exploration as well as networking. I have talked with a brewery about using spent grain to create a biodegradable, but structurally sound six-pack ring and have recently spoken to mentors about different materials that could potentially contribute to the structure. I plan to potentially continue this project into the summer and create a final product for distribution to restaurants in the local area.