News

    Green Packaging Replaces Petroleum-Based Foam

    Packing material can be absorbed back into nature when its job is done

    Ecocradle serves the same purpose as traditional foams when used as a packaging material.
    Ecocradle serves the same purpose as traditional foams when used as a packaging material.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Smitha Raghunathan

    Buying a product these days often means you are getting more than you bargained for.

    Unwrapping your latest purchase can leave the room strewn with the cardboard, plastic and packing foam waste that kept your newest purchase protected until it reached the safety of your home.

    That may soon change, however, with a new product that can be used as compost when its job as packaging is done.

    Alternative to packaging foam

    Packing foam is useful for only a few weeks or months before being tossed into the trash.

    But after being thrown away, this petroleum-based material can survive for thousands of years in landfills. Now, there is an alternative to this wasteful practice: a new type of packing material that can be absorbed back into nature when its job is done.

    Ecocradle can be used as compost when it is no longer needed for packaging.
    Ecocradle can be used as compost when it is no longer needed for packaging.

    Eben Bayer is the CEO and cofounder of Ecovative Design, which manufactures Ecocradle, a natural packing alternative.

    "We source agricultural waste from around the world. So we have a regionalized or localized manufacturing process. If you're in the United States in the South you might use rice husks. In upstate New York where we're based we use things like buckwheat husks."

    Bayer explains that agricultural waste products become the bulk, or main body, of the packing material, which is held together by mushroom roots, or mycelium.

    "So we take these seed husks, we wet them, we cook them, we put them in a mold. We then add a liquid slurry of these mushroom cells or mycelium. And then over five days, indoors, in the dark, they self-assemble, they grow into packaging parts."

    Saving even more energy

    Ecovative Design is also working on a new sterilization process that's key to the growth of the mushroom cells.  

    Bayer's business partner, Gavin McIntyre, developed a process that depends entirely on natural plant compounds that inhibit microbial growth. The compounds include oils from cinnamon-bark, thyme, oregano and lemongrass - and create an aroma that McIntyre likens to pizza. The process will reduce the amount of energy used by about one-fifth, meaning new versions of Ecocradle will use only one-fortieth the energy required to manufacture traditional foam packing materials.

    This low-energy process will also free Ecovative Design from the traditional large scale manufacturing operations required by most packing companies. Instead, it hopes to locate its factories as close as possible to both its agricultural suppliers and its end-users. Bayer says this localized plan will save money and help the environment by reducing expensive transportation costs.

    Happy customers

    Steelcase, a global leader in the office furniture industry, recently switched from petroleum-based foam packaging to Ecocradle.

    Dennis Carlson works with packaging design and development at Steelcase.

    "What we found is that the Ecocradle materials that were being developed had very similar performance characteristics and, additionally, a very similar price-point."

    Carlson says this switch was inspired by the company's desire to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly. It has already generated some positive feedback from their customers.    

    "People find it very interesting that we've gone this route. It [Ecocradle] decomposes in 30-45 days which is a really big deal, and something that they haven't been able to do with the previous foams. And they like the fact that they can either put it into a landfill and it'll break down or throw it in their garden."

    Just the beginning

    But Ecovative Design has its eye on replacing products in other markets, as well.

    For example, Bayer says the company is developing a product called Greensulate to provide an environmentally-friendly alternative to foam or fiberglass insulation.

    "Ecovative is not just a packaging company. Packaging is the first application for our material because it's a really terrible idea to use a product that lasts 10,000 years for a couple weeks. So our vision is not just to help revolutionize the packaging market, not just to revolutionize the building market, but we really want to become one of the leaders in sustainable materials in this century."

    In the process, Bayer says, his company hopes to inspire others to do business in a way that values a healthy planet at least as much as healthy profits.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora