Funded Research Projects

Funded Research Projects and their Impacts:

Evaluation of Performance of Degradation-Promoting Additives for Plastic Packaging

Project will be completed in 2015
Impact: Brand owners are under pressure to incorporate additives into plastics that cause spontaneous decomposition. The efficacy of these additives has not been established by neutral research. Preliminary results suggest they are not effective and thus should not be incorporated into plastic-based packaging. To do so would cause unnecessary burden on the brand owners.

Comparison of LCA Methods and Databases for Evaluation of Packaging Alternatives

Project completed.
Impact: This study has demonstrated that results of LCA analyses are dependent on the specific software chosen. Thus, decisions made are dependent on the software chosen, not the actual results. Each software provider uses different assumptions measuring that render it difficult to make sound decisions on LCA results. 
To review the final report for phase one click HERE.

Migration from polymer-clay nanocomposite systems: method development, validation and modeling

Project completed.
Impact: The promise of nano additives to reduce packaging costs is being held up due to a lack of information on potential migration to foods. This work provides the key in addressing this issue; analytical methods. This is important to manufacturers as the use of nanomaterial becomes more common and is being considered for federal grants

Creating a Communication Plan to Promote Consumer Awareness of the Value of Packaging

Project completed.
Impact: This research has firmly established the current consumer attitude surrounding packaging and serves as the basis for how to best communicate the benefits of packaging and the value packaging brings to consumers. Companies, trade associations, and NGO’s can take the lead to educate consumers, retailers, and suppliers about the value of packaging. The project was finalized November 2013. For an overview of the results please refer to this Prezi presentation:

Economic Viability and Sustainability of Returnable versus Single-Use Packaging Systems

Project completed.
Impact: This tool is used as an aid in determining when to use reusable container or pallet systems and when it makes best sense to use an expendable system. The tool uses company specific data to provide information so optimal decisions can be made for product distribution.

LCA studies for bio-based plastics

Project completed.
Impact: This study provides a compilation of data available in bio-based feedstocks as well as an indication of what data is still needed to complete an LCA in this area. This will serve as a guidepost for the use of bio-based materials as feed stocks for bio-based packaging and ties in with the LCA comparison study.  To review the final report click HERE

Unsaleables are Unsustainable

Project completed.
Impact: This research will develop the means for product manufacturers to collect useful data, and measure how specific packaging and supply chain initiatives can reduce food waste and unsaleables.

Impact of Nanoclays on the Biodegradation of Bio-nanocomposites

Project will be completed in 2015
Impact: As nano-additives become used in biodegradable packaging the industry needs to understand the potential unintended consequences.

Release from multi-walled carbon nanotube and graphene nanocomposite systems

Project estimated to be completed in 2016
Impact: New polymer systems with nanoparticles are expected to be in compliance with federal agencies regulations. However, data regarding the kinetics of migration of the nanocomponents in the polymeric matrix are scarce. New nanoparticles such as multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) and graphene sheets are increasingly becoming popular as reinforcement for nanocomposites since their cost has decreased significantly making their application in consumer goods like packaging possible. Our preliminary work consisted in the assessment of a well establish nanocomposite based on nanoclay in a polymeric matrices of polypropylene and nylon. Working on these nanocomposite systems, we have developed methods to measure and track specifically organo-montmorillonite (o-MMT) nanoclay. Through this preliminary work, we have identified an approach to develop methodologies that could be applicable in the assessment of other nanoparticles. So, we are proposing to develop and validate methodologies to evaluate the release of MWCNT and graphene from two polymer systems (PP and Nylon) in contact with specific simulants and air under different conditions. 

A Study in Sustainability of Biobased Plastics

Project estimated to be completed in 2017
Impact:  Biobased plastics packaging derived from plant biomass feedstocks offers the value proposition of removal of CO2 from the environment in a short time (1-10 years) and incorporating them into plastic polymer molecule in complete harmony with the natural biological carbon cycle. In the case of plastics made from fossil resources the carbon present has formed over a million year time frame and so cannot be credited with any CO2 removal from the environment even over a 100 year time scale ( the time period used in measuring global warming potential, GWP100). In this project we provide a simple, and direct stoichiometric approach to quantify the amount of CO2 removed from the environment using experimental biobased carbon-14 measurements. This project will address issues relating to land use, food vs fuel, decoupling biofuel production in biorefinery, and answer questions on the contribution of rural agrarian economy to sustainability. The project seeks to engage member companies in developing integrated end-of-life total solutions approach for selected biobased resins that can meet their packaging performance requirements. It is our goal to develop prototype/pilot program for our member companies that integrates biobased packaging with end-of-life solutions.

Evaluating the Drivers and Determinants of Consumers’ Willingness to Recycle

Project estimated to be completed in 2015
Impact:  Recycling is generally perceived as promoting the sustainable use of our natural resources and, therefore, as the right thing to do to protect the environment and to benefit society. Yet recycling rates have remained low and a large quantity of waste is still sent to landfills. For example, about 60-70% of waste is sent to landfills in the United States. Understanding consumers’ decision making related to recycling is critical to develop effective strategies to encourage more recycling of packaging materials.
Our research will identify the factors affecting consumers’ decision-making and perceived obstacles to recycling. In particular, we will test how market prices, social norms, and advertising campaigns affect people’s decision to recycle. We will evaluate the importance of financial incentives (e.g., rebate, discount, cost of time) and labeling on consumer behavior.

Optimizing the environmental performance of food product-packaging systems

Project estimated to be completed in 2017
Impact: Packaging sustainability efforts often focus on light weighting or alternative materials, yet the primary function of packaging remains protecting the product. Food packaging can greatly extend shelf life, improve deliverability, and maintain salable food products, thus reducing food waste and food production demand. This work examines the environmental trade-off between food waste and food packaging using life cycle assessment. A scan-level analysis of the food—packaging space will identify opportunities to improve system sustainability through food waste reduction, and detailed case studies will elucidate more specific behaviors of this trade-off.

Tracking and assessing the transport of engineered nanoparticles from polymer-clay nanocomposites

Project will be completed in 2015
Impact:  Based on preliminary work completed from the completed project from the Center “Migration from polymer-clay nanocomposites systems”, the goals of this project are to investigate the time progress of the coupled phenomena of solvent penetration into the film, the swelling of the matrix and nanolayers by the solvent, and the motion and aggregation of nanolayers near the surface of the film caused by modified interaction forces due to the solvent. The main objectives are (1) to characterize the interaction between the nanocomposite components and the solvents, (2) to record the evolution of nanocomposite structures in contact with the solvent and relate this to the interactions, and (3) to understand the connection between solvent transport through nanocomposites and the migration of nanoparticles and other additives.

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