Polystyrene foam is a material that difficult to recycle because it is inexpensive and lightweight but also non-biodegradable. It is made of toxic ingredients, relies on petroleum, does not degrade naturally, and pollutes the environment during production and disposal.

Recently, Reseacher at University of Göttingen  have long been exploring manufacturing processes for popcorn-based packaging products that could be an environmentally friendly alternative to polystyrene or plastic products. Head of the research group is Professor Alireza Kharazipour. he explained ” This new process, based on technology developed in the plastic industry, enables the production of a wide range of molded parts. This is particularly important when considering packaging because it ensures that products are transported safely, minimizing waste. And this has all been achieved using a material that will even be biodegradable afterward”

POLYSTYRENE FOAM alternative

The popcorn foam was used in the production of this molded wine bottle packaging ( source: University of Göttingen )

The production process begins with mechanically shredding maize grains into granules, which are then expanded using pressurized steam. The expanded granules are then mixed with a plant-protein-derived bonding agent before being pressed into a mold. When the bonding agent has cured, the sheet, block, or other item is removed from the mold and is ready for use. The finished product is as strong as polystyrene but much more environmentally friendly because it can be reused and composted.

This project already has a commercial licensing arrangement with the German cereal firm Nordgetreide for the use of the popcorn-packaging process.

The technique was also licensed to the Bachl Group of Germany, who will commercialize it for use in building insulation. The material might also be used for protective/insulating packaging, sporting equipment components, and lightweight vehicle parts.

POLYSTYRENE FOAM alternativeImage source: University of Göttingen

For other plant based packaging, please refer more here 

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