This Styrofoam-like packaging is made of popcorn, not plastic.

Those bits that come inside your packages are called peanuts, but of course they are made from polystyrene, not anything natural. But what if we could send things packaged in popcorn—the actual food, not another plastic-derived counterpart—instead?

That’s the hope of researchers at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who have developed the plant-based packaging and are already in talks for its commercial use. Whereas polystyrene-based packaging like Styrofoam takes centuries to break down and is made from nonrenewable fossil fuels, popcorn is easily renewable, biodegradable, and could even be composted at home.

The idea to use popcorn as packaging first came to Alireza Kharazipour, head of the research group that developed the packaging and a professor at the university’s Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology, when he was at the movies. “In the dark, the popcorn felt just as light as styropol foam balls,” he says. “The next day I bought corn and made popcorn at home in a pot.” Eventually, those experiments moved into the lab at the University of Göttingen.

Styrofoam is such good packaging material and insulation because it’s made of 95% air, but it’s still especially harmful to the environment. Foam polystyrene is made from petroleum, is difficult to recycle and often not even accepted by recycling programs, and can take centuries to decompose, breaking down into microplastics that threaten wildlife and environments along the way.

But just like polystyrene, popcorn is filled with air too. Kharazipour and his research group use crushed corn, made from the inedible by-products of cornflakes production, and use a steam process to expand that crushed corn into what the researchers call “granulated” popcorn. “The products are very light because popcorn granules are filled with air like honeycombs,” Kharazipour says. “When grain maize expands into popcorn, the volume increases by 15% to 20%.

The popcorn packaging can be made with these by-products, or from corn grown anywhere. Using different molds, the popcorn can be turned into various packaging shapes. The researchers also coated the expanded popcorn in a thin layer of bioplastic so that the packaging is water-repellent. The result, Kharazipour says, is a packaging material that is just as strong as polystyrene but can be easily cut with a circular saw and can be reused, shredded down, or composted at home.

Each year, the U.S. alone produces about 3 million tons of polystyrene, mainly for packaging and food service items, according to environmental consultant Green Dining Alliance. Across the world, packaging is the biggest purchaser of plastics, accounting for about 40% of total plastic usage. Not all of that is polystyrene or Styrofoam-like packaging, but Kharazipour and his research team hope they can make a dent in what is.

The university has already entered a licensing agreement with a grain and cereal company called Nordgetreide for commercial use of the popcorn-packaging making process, and is working on manufacturing various popcorn packaging products. It’s a step toward creating, as Kharazipour says, “a clean environment free of plastic-based products.

Website Link (Article by Kristin Toussaint)

Published by RenSun Lee

Kia ora! Sustainability is at the core of my soul ever since I was a kid. I always strive to finish the food on my plate and live as a minimalist. I love to cut down on waste in order to live sustainably and harmoniously with our planet. This brings me to my passion as a Food Scientist to integrate new technologies into innovative and creative solutions to meet customer demands and market trends and to optimize products and processes for quality, savings and sustainability. To these goals, I have published a Journal on my work on sustainable packaging and patented a new Antimicrobial wash. Nothing is more satisfying than working hard and smart at the workplace and playing hard outside of working hours. I enjoy rejuvenating myself through spending quality time with my two adorable kids and my awesome soul mate and getting close to nature when possible, be it gardening, tramping or going to the beach. I also love to learn about our magnificent universe and how sustainability is working in the grand scheme of things. I strongly believe that Work, Life & Balance is the key to a healthy state of mind, both physically and mentally. I look forward to making a positive difference wherever and whenever I can. Through this Blog, I hope to catalog recent Food Trends and Food Technologies that I come across so that anyone who is interested can have access to it (articles and resources). Please use these resources at your discretion. On top of that, I would also like to share related news and technologies of the future that would help mankind advance towards a Type 1 Civilization. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to share and contribute to the “Resources“. I would like to thank you in advance for dropping by. I sincerely hope that you can benefit from the recent Food Trends and Food Technologies I catalogued. Kind regards | Ngā mihi RenSun Lee

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