Scientists create biodegradable foam packaging

Styrofoam is recyclable but few recycling centers will accept it

Styrofoam (or polystyrene) has been the standard for packing around electronics for years. Despite the fact that numerous recycling centers for this material have sprung up around the country, few municipalities accept it as part of their recycling stream – mostly due to lack of market demand and high transportation costs.

Now an international group of scientists has created a new type of biodegradable foam made from clay and casein, a protein found in cow’s milk.

The new biodegradable foam material under a microscope

Casein generally lacks strength and is water-soluble, though it has already been sued in some adhesives and paper coatings. The addition of a small amount of clay to casein makes it water-resistant. The strength issue was solved by adding a biocompatible agent called glyceraldehyde which cross linked molecules.

After the mixture is freeze-dried, the resulting aerogel is then cured in an oven. The finished product can then be used commercially for things such as furniture cushions, insulation and packaging.

When the material was added to a compost, almost one-third of it biodegraded within thirty days.

It will be interesting to see how quickly this new material makes it into commercial use. It could certainly be a viable and eco-friendly alternative to packing peanuts if the price is right.

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