Fusebox EPFL

Partially adopted

More packaging, more recycling

This may seem an antithesis, but if well done it might have a positive impact. The idea comes from two considerations :

1) What is (one of) the nightmares of recycling companies ? Organic contamination : remaining cream on your yoghurt tub, patches of tomato sauce on the pizza-box, grease on crisp packs...

2) Companies try to save resources (and costs) by making packaging lighter and lighter. But you still need some mechanical resistance.

So let us dissociate what actually wraps the product and what provides mechanical resistance and visual aspect : a very thin film of (if possible bio-) plastic would stick to the inside walls of your yoghurt tub, pizza-box, crisp pack, etc. Once you have emptied the tub/box/pack, you swiftly remove the dirty film and throw it away (if it is biodegradable, in your composting bin !) and 98% of your packaging weight is clean and ready to enter the recycling chain.

Of course, new recycling techniques must be invented for pristine yet empty yoghurt tubes and crisp packs... or perhaps (and better) they could just be collected, coated with a new film and refilled. Collection would be more convenient since they wouldn't be dirty (no yuk factor or risk of bacteria growth).

 

Nicolas Pierret May 17, 2014

Isn't it what exist yet with the yogurt packaging (identity is on a removable cardboard part, which also rigidity the whole thing)? Same for other products such as lentil salad, etc. Are you thinking about improving this?

Alicia Gayout May 18, 2014

The two packagings you mention allow to recycle the cardboard but not the plastic : I would like to add the thin film (similar to the one we use to cover food at home or to wrap sandwiches) inside the tub/box/pack like a second skin, in contact with the food, that you could tear out easily. 

Akiko Nagafuji May 19, 2014

This approach is interesting.

Though I don't understand how bothersome and difficult the recycling of that kind of waste (I mean, with organic contamination) is very much, maybe we need to think about the balance between additional packages and recycling cost. As you mentioned, if we can use a biodegradable film, it will be fine.

Alicia Gayout May 19, 2014

As for paper/cardboard, organic contamination most often refers to grease, which will mingle with the cellulose fibers and completely spoil the final product.

Concerning plastics, apparently one of the main issues is that it takes a long time for recyclable plastics to go from your bin to the treatment plant, and organic contamination favours the growth of microorganisms (eg. mould), which makes the waste even dirtier and may pose a threat to workers' health. 

And during a "Recycling of Materials" lesson, we learn that for carbon fibers for instance organic contamination requires delicate and costly washing before any recycling attempt.

Source : http://bgm.stanford.edu/pssi_faq_contamination

Yves Leterrier May 19, 2014

Alicia, your idea fits with 'design for recycling' ... but may complicate sorting efforts. Also, there presently exist myriads of polymer grades used in packaging, most of them being incompatible with another (even within the same polymer family). And since zero contamination does not appear to be possible, cleaning will probably always be needed. All this makes recycling plastics packaging not economically viable, apart from very specific cases such as the successful PET.Nevertheless, design concepts to reduce the number of different plastics in short lifetime products are lacking and inputs in this field are certainly welcome!

Alicia Gayout May 20, 2014

I understand that recycling of plastics is compromised. But protected cardboard would be available for recycling, wouldn't it ?

Since we cannot recycle the yoghurt tubs, could we collect and reuse them ? Other plastic/cardboard packaging (eg. egg boxes) could follow the same path. Local co-ops selling yoghurts and/or eggs may be interested (in Switzerland, Migros or Coop would be convenient intermediaries).

Nicolas Pierret May 20, 2014

We have to keep in mind that recycling and sorting relies (unfortunately) on the good will of us, consumers!

I really feel like a E.T when I separate cardboard and alu cap from the yoghurt to sort them. I think at some point, consumers just refuse to follow all your proposals, because it's just to much! I think just focus on reducing packaging, make it out of bio-organic materials, or at least renewable ressources is already a great challenge!

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Alexandre Gubert May 19, 2014

Is there really nothing to do with organic contamination? I mean using all the bacteria developed fo compost for example?

Anyway, the biodegradable plastic approach seems interesting and challenging!

Alicia Gayout May 20, 2014

The bacteria were not "developed" for compost, they just arrive and thrive by themselves :-)

And you cannot unleash a bunch of bacteria/other microorganisms (mould = fungi) on soiled plastics, they may eat organics but also produce acidity or toxic/detrimental compounds as by-products ; when they die, they form more organic waste ! And they need time too, to spread on the heterogeneous mass of plastics.

Leila Ojjeh May 21, 2014

Status changed to INTERESTING
Congratulations Alicia...! You're doing an amazing job on this challenge. Your idea has been tagged as "interesting" by the experts team. Could the community elaborate on it... How user friendly could we make it? Who would be recycling (user or recycling facility, supplier company)? How could we incentive people to use this system (related to Gamification idea)? Thanks!

Chieko Kitaura May 22, 2014

Hi, Alicia and everyone, congratulation !  I'm very appreciating this idea. I think this idea that contamination removal with firm has the aspect of water saving. Especially in water starved area, this film is helpful to reduce the washing water. we still have space to imagine the application of this film.  What do you think ? 

Alicia Gayout May 25, 2014

Indeed, producing the film would require water, but production can be made in places where water is abundant. Then rolls of plastic film are easier to ship than water of course !

For instance the film could be laid on plates in restaurants, to avoid using water for washing up.

It could also be laid on cardboard plates so that contamination is avoided and cardboard can be recycled or reused.

Leila Ojjeh May 26, 2014

Status changed to Partially adopted
Congratulations ! This idea has made it to the Top 10! A new way to look at the problem, taking it at its root! Such an approach could simplify tremendously the collection and logistics but some key recycling issues remain… any idea on how to overcome them and make the concept stronger?
1) How to solve issues of contamination and compatibility of materials when recycling e.g plastic?
2) Could we imagine other consumer benefits to add to this new packaging system in order to have more people adopting it?

Leila Ojjeh May 26, 2014

This idea has been advanced to the next phase

Leila Ojjeh May 26, 2014

This idea has been advanced to the next phase

Alicia Gayout May 26, 2014

1) The problem of plastic compatibility, also faced by the excellent idea "From plastic waste to 3D ink", is so huge that I would suggest to focus on cardboard, aluminium, PET and PE packaging for the moment.

The bioplastic film (why not the same than the one described in the idea using green algae to make plastic film ?) would be applied on the internal surface (or the entire surface, to avoid any contamination) of the pizza box/tray/yogurt tub before it is filled with the organic product.

So that when it is empty, the user removes the dirty film, throws it into the composting bin and put the unsoiled cardboard/plastic into the recyclable bin. 

2) How to incentivize the consumer ? Perhaps we could make part of the film opaque, to hide a code for some discount or small prize (as in all kinds of such games, the odds to get something would not be high - or on the contrary it would be systematic, such as a "consigne" !): then the user would have to remove the film in order to get it !

Yuuta Shimazaki May 27, 2014

It is very good idea to add small prize concept to motivate people to remove film from package! ( The prize should be eco-friendly items like shark skin sheet?)

Can we add some more ideas from the package company point of view? Is CSR the only reason to add this film to package?

Alicia Gayout May 27, 2014

Actually, the sorting center or recycling facility that benefits from resulting time & money savings would pay the package company for adding the film. It avoids relying on CSR & goodwill !

francesco mazzilli May 27, 2014

Hi Everyone,

it seems to me an interesting and challenging discussion and I would like to join. I am not a material expert and what I write is based on personal research but I have experience for what concern food and drug administration regulations. By saying, my comments are below.

1) How to solve issues of contamination and compatibility of materials when recycling e.g plastic?  If I have understood, Alicia wants to adopt a technique like bioplastic film in order to avoid contamination when recycling and to reduce additional cost related to washing.

Well, there is a nice section in this webpage http://www.ift.org/Knowledge-Center/Read-IFT-...-Packaging.aspx called material used in food packaging. Therefore, we need to think about the properties that this additional cover should have since it shouldn't affect the food quality and preservation before thinking of recycling. In the same section, a list of plastic materials is present thus we may chose among them since they are probably approved by organizations as US FOOD and Drug Administration (FDA) or European Food Safety Authority.

A thermoplastics film could be used since can be easily shaped, molded and is recyclable. More specifically, a polyethylene or polypropylene type film could be used as they are well suited for recycling and reuse. Maybe, this film can be part of a new category of material than can be recycled or simply as Alicia said "the user removes the dirty film, throws it into the composting bin and put the unsoiled cardboard/plastic into the recyclable bin".

2) Could we imagine other consumer benefits to add to this new packaging system in order to have more people adopting it? Hiding a code for some discount, it's a great idea.

3) Can we add some more ideas from the package company point of view? Is CSR the only reason to add this film to package? Sorting center has to pay employees for cleaning, sorting and so on then I don't think they will be willing to pay the packaging company to adopt the bioplastic film. Maybe, by adding this additional film the package company can claim to have a sort of double plastic protection that increase the strenght for instance of the pizza box. I mean, the package company should have some marketing strategy since they don't sell the final product which could be the pizza.

In addition, I agree with Yves who said cleaning will be probably needed in any case.

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Alicia Gayout May 28, 2014

Hi Cesco, thanks for your comments !

You're right, the film has to comply with stringent food regulations, do you know any bioplastic that is already accepted ?

It's true that companies in the recycling chain don't have that much money... But will pizza shops agree to pay a premium fee for film-covered boxes while they don't seem to experience strength problems within the short time lapse when they handle the box ?

Indeed, financing is a good question. Perhaps the price of the film can just be charged to the customer (within the price of the pizza) who would become the marketing target thanks to the hidden code : "In this pizzeria, the pizza box in which you can win gifts !"

As for cleaning, it concerns plastic, not cardboard, doesn't it ? Because dirty cardboard cannot be recycled for now, no cleaning can help it. 

francesco mazzilli May 28, 2014

  • You're right, the film has to comply with stringent food regulations, do you know any bioplastic that is already accepted? Well, If I knew it, I would have written it down, don't I? :)
  • ...the short time lapse when they handle the box? Yes, thy experienced it expecially larges boxes sag downwardly thus a white plastic tripod is placed in the middle of the pizza. I saw it for the first time when I was in USA, I didn't it see it here http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/tech...izza_boxes.html Therefore, a more robust box may be even patentable.
  • Thanks, the cost of a margherita in Lausanne can be 15 CHF while in Italy is 4 EUR. Adding the bioplastic film to the cost of Pizza in Switzerland, the customer won't notice 0.5 CHF more.
  • As for cleaning, it concerns plastic, not cardboard, doesn't it ? Because dirty cardboard cannot be recycled for now, no cleaning can help it. You are right about this, that's why this contest is challenge in providing idea and we are for such reason. I found an interesting webiste that discuss cardboard http://ecycler.com/2010/11/01/can-i-recycle-a-pizza-box/ There are lot of people that don't know that cardoboard is not recyclable and they placed in the cardboard bin! The bioplastic film can help in this direction - along with its promotion code - since when removed will take the remaining sticky food.

 

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