As it’s non-biodegradable and a pain to recycle, Styrofoam packaging is one of the most pernicious types of plastic pollution. But thanks to an eco-friendly alternative developed by a group of scientists from Germany, it may not be long until the outdated plastic material becomes a thing of the past.
Developed by researchers at the Dresden University of Technology, the Styrofoam replacement involves first converting shredded paper waste into a slurry and then using a special process to dry slabs of that slurry into mats of a cellulose-fiber material.
According to the scientists, the resulting paper-based material is as effective as its plastic counterpart when it comes to thermal insulation — which is one of the crucial properties that made Styrofoam so popular.
But, unlike Styrofoam, the novel material is both 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable. Even better, instead of requiring fossil fuel-based raw materials, its production process uses waste that might otherwise be landfill or burned.
It’s worth noting though that the mats are coated with a waterproof plastic film which has to be separated at the recycling facility. But the manufacturers are now working on more sustainable alternatives, such as a cellulose-based external barrier that could be directly applied to the material.