Last month, two Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI) doctoral students won the 2020 Mars Wrigley Sustainability Packathon contest which shifted its finale event from the city of Chicago in Illinois to an online format that hosted seven finalist teams. Another team from Georgia Tech placed second in the contest.
Nasreen Khan and Manali Banerjee, both Georgia Tech doctoral students in materials science and engineering, and RBI paper science and engineering fellows, won first prize in this year’s event which had more than 50 national teams competing. Using the team name, “Talk Green to Me,” they presented to Mars Wrigley a detailed sustainability packaging idea and technology that eventually allows packaging to naturally convert to compost and re-enter the recycling stream. Because of the contest guidelines, specific details about their proposed closed-loop sustainability idea that makes the most of agricultural waste cannot be publicized.
“Both of us are material scientists. We work in the same lab. So, we decided to approach this idea from a materials perspective and come up with more sustainable packaging from the materials standpoint,” said Banerjee. “We wanted to use more sustainable or degradable materials to come up with a new kind of packaging that they could implement. We specifically work with cellulose and natural products. We wanted to use natural products and natural materials, so that was our approach to it.”
“Initially, we came at this with the idea that we want a single layer, and we want to use less of normal fossil fuels, or normal plastics. We then wanted to use all biodegradable materials, but specifically materials that are coming from agricultural waste that's already going to landfill,” said Khan. “If we can use agricultural waste to make one single layer that can be easily compostable and easily manufactured, then that's what we wanted to do. We looked at it from an overall viewpoint, such as, how is this product going to start from the beginning, from the farmers? And how does it end with the consumers and then loop back around in this cycle.”
Their team helped answer the overall question about how Mars Wrigley can help increase consumer rates of appropriate package disposal for candy, gum, and chocolate packaging.
“The finalists are definitely the next generation of packaging,“ said William Singleton, global director of packaging innovation at Mars Wrigley.
Khan and Banerjee are so passionate about their field of work as material scientists that they regular record and publish a podcast called “Talk Green to Me.” You can subscribe to their podcasts on Spotify, Apple, and SoundCloud.
Another Georgia Tech materials science engineering and MBA student team placed second in the Mars Wrigley packaging national contest. Team members were Monica Marks and Edward DiLoreto, both doctoral students in materials science and engineering, and Abby Brenller and Amanda Grupp, both MBA students in the Scheller College of Business.
The design developed by their team named “Buzz & Burdell's” utilized waste cacao material along with other biopolymers to create a high quality, compostable candy wrapper. The team also developed a marketing plan to engage consumers and educate them on the positive impact of the new materials design.