Over 14 million tons of polystyrene (plastic foam) is produced each year, while Americans alone discard roughly 25 billion Styrofoam cups per year, according to a 2016 St. Louis University report. Unfortunately, most “cold chain” products such as food, floriculture, or medicine are shipped in single-use Styrofoam packaging, which is difficult to recycle and are non-biodegradable.
To remedy this issue, scientists at TU Dresden’s Institute of Natural Products Engineering have developed an insulating material from discarded paper for shipping temperature-sensitive products. Unlike Styrofoam, the new material can be fully recycled at existing facilities and biodegradable when dumped in landfills.
German company easy2cool is currently in the process of commercializing the Styrofoam-alternative insulating material. The production process involves first converting shredded paper waste into a slurry, then slabs of that slurry are dried into mats made of a cellulose-fiber matter.
The resulting material’s low density and narrow pore size give it a Styrofoam-like low thermal conductivity, allowing it to act as highly effective insulation. “Due to the low thermal conductivity and higher heat storage capacity of cellulose, the insulating properties of the sustainable fiber mats even surpass those of most other materials,” explained project coordinator Thomas Schrinner, of the Chair of Wood Technology & Fiber Materials Engineering. Read more…