Lead Mentor: Vinay Mehta, Materials Science and Engineering
2023 Students Team:
Cayla Brint ‘24
Estefania Ravelo ‘26
Matt O’Connell ‘26
Max Beutner ‘24
Sophia Mihalek ‘24
Roughly 70 million tons of food is wasted each year in the United States alone. In the Philippines, over 650,000 tons goes unused annually. Food waste primarily consists of post-harvest agricultural waste and waste from households, supermarkets, and restaurants. Landfills and incinerators are currently the two most common routes for food waste disposal, neither of which are environmentally sustainable. We need alternatives that are not only sustainable but economically smart. One such option is converting food waste into packaging products - if successful, this would simultaneously reduce the use of petroleum-derived plastics in packaging and agricultural waste. Cassava bags made out of starch and vegetable oils are an example of such an endeavor, but few companies developing sustainable packaging utilize waste as their input.
The AgriWrap team has chosen to focus its work on corn husks due to their accessibility and wide array of possibilities for conversion. Over the summer, the team met with experts on fiber-based paper products and bioplastic manufacturers who provided invaluable insight into the Filipino market’s need for locally derived and sustainably made packaging alternatives in order to tackle the increasing plastic pollution in the islands. The team also spoke with government departments and farmers in order to understand how such a product would fit into the waste ecosystem, with an emphasis on returning our product to the soil for composting. Currently, two processes are being researched in the lab, one being a paper-based packaging material suitable for take out foods and the other being a bioplastic pellet that could be extruded or molded into various plastic goods like plastic bags. All majors are encouraged to apply.