Malaysian firm develops package-less packaging

26 May 2020

A group of Malaysian Ph.D. students won the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Save our Seas global engineering challenge with their new bagless approach to food packaging called the PICAS block. The competition is hosted in partnership with Greenpeace.

This new plastic-less packaging is constructed out of carrageenan – edible red seaweed – and starch to create food blocks that are dissolvable with the application of hot water. While the solution is currently designed for loose, green foods such as beans, the team will begin experimenting with the implementation of this packaging system for grains and lentils.

Malaysian firm develops package-less packaging
PICAS Block

The problem statement for this most recent challenge asked competitors to design new reusable packaging or reimagine the approach of British supermarkets to dramatically reduce their need for single-use plastic packaging.

In the approach used by NanoMalaysia, the winning team in the competition, the beans are immobilized in a binding starch solution and then encased in carrageenan to prevent any moisture from reaching the product. The design also imparts tensile strength to the packaged beans thereby enabling them to be placed directly into a shopping basket from the shelf without any other protective packaging.

When submerged in boiling water, the starch-seaweed layer can be peeled back and the encased beans are released for cooking. The starch is tapioca-based rather than gelatin-based to make the packaging a viable alternative for all consumers.

Although single-use plastics provide convenience to consumers, they have fallen out of favor in recent years due to concerns about environmental sustainability. An EcoFocus Trends Survey from earlier this year showed a majority of US shoppers feel that healthy products should come with healthy and more sustainable packaging standards, which includes alternatives to plastic.

However, not only are consumers demanding more eco-friendly solutions, but they are willing to pay more for them, too. According to the survey, 64% of millennials say that "to them it is worth paying more for eco-friendly products," which is up 26% compared to the Baby Boomer generation.

Seaweed is a unique choice for this award-winning packaging alternative, albeit one that is growing in popularity. Edible and biodegradable packaging options have come into vogue in recent years and were even spotlighted as one of the top packaging trends for 2020. However, the idea was already in the works as early as 2017 when an Indonesian-based startup called Evoware debuted its edible wrapper made from seaweed. The company’s packaging can be eaten solid, or, much like NanoMalaysia’s solution, can be dissolved in boiling water.

While the idea for edible or biodegradable sustainable packaging is nothing new, it is one that will likely continue to gain steam as consumers continue to look for creative solutions from companies that promote both eco-friendly practices and convenience.

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