New Shipping Material Made From Popcorn Can Replace Styrofoam ‘Peanuts’
In a stroke of scientific genius, a German researcher enjoying a box of popcorn in a dark movie theater realized that the overpriced, butter-soaked concession had the exact same size and consistency as Styrofoam packing peanuts.
Considering Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, which requires fossil fuel extraction and takes centuries to break down into yet smaller bits of harmful micro-plastic, Alireza Kharazipour thought it was worth experimenting with puffed corn kernels as a replacement for them.
Annually, in the U.S. alone, around 3 million tons of polystyrene is produced, which is a lot considering it’s 95% air. It’s a popular choice because it has enabled packaging to take on very precise forms and provides excellent packing safety for fragile electronics on the move, for instance—while costing pennies to manufacture.
One of its worst qualities is that most recycling facilities don’t have the capability to process it.
“Our popcorn packaging is a great sustainable alternative to polystyrene which is derived from petroleum,” said Stefan Schult, Managing Director of Nordgetreide.
“The products are very light because popcorn granules are filled with air like honeycombs,” Kharazipour tells Fast Company. “When grain maize expands into popcorn, the volume increases by 15% to 20%.”
Taking corn waste products produced from making corn flakes, then filling them with steam creates what Kharazipour and his team at Gottingen University call “granulated popcorn.”
The popcorn packing can be made from any type of corn, and is completely biodegradable.
Large pieces can be compressed into shapes to hold different products, and can be easily sawed into pieces, either for cutting into precise shapes, or for shredding at the end of its life.
The brilliance of Kharazipour’s idea has landed him an exclusive licensing agreement with a medium-sized grain and cereal company in Europe called Nordgetreide for manufacturing various popcorn packing products.
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