Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Dr Jinsheng Gou

Creating foam packaging from upcycled cardboard

Retail

Could this solution tackle paper waste and reduce our reliance on plastics?

Spotted: It’s more convenient than ever to order something online and have it arrive on your doorstep in a matter of hours or days. However, the boom of e-commerce has also resulted in a surge in packaging materials that most often end up as waste. This is particularly a concern for non-biodegradable protective materials like plastic-based foams, which are generally difficult for consumers to recycle. 

Inspired by the need for sustainable alternatives in packaging materials, Dr Jinsheng Gou and his colleagues at the Beijing Forestry University saw potential in the abundance of leftover cardboard and sought to develop a solution that repurposes this waste into a valuable, eco-friendly foam replacement.   

The team broke down cardboard scraps in a blender to make a pulp, then mixed it with either gelatine or PVA glue. These mixtures were poured into moulds, refrigerated, and freeze-dried to make biodegradable cushioning foams. Then, the researchers also created a ‘heavy-duty’ version of their foam by combining the pulp, gelatine, PVA glue, and a silica-based fluid that hardens whenever force is applied. 

Both initial paper-based foams demonstrated good thermal insulation and absorbed energy effectively, while the “heavy-duty” foam successfully endured hits from a hammer without falling apart. Because of its durability, the foam showed its potential for use in force-intensive deliveries, such as parachute-free airdrops. 

Moving forward, the team aims to optimise the production process further, explore potential industrial applications, and continue research into enhancing the performance characteristics of the cardboard-based foam. 

Conventional packaging is a scourge on the environment, and Springwise has spotted many innovations that create sustainable alternatives. For example, one company is using mushrooms and hemp to develop a replacement for polystyrene and another has created biodegradable plastic that can dissolve in water.

Written By: Anam Alam

Email: jinsheng@bjfu.edu.cn

Website: bjfu.admissions.cn

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