Melbourne-based manufacturing company RMAX is working with CSIRO to make a sustainable, and biodegradable, version of a product involved in the life-cycle of many of the things we buy.
They hope to cut the environmental impact of the nine thousand tonnes of expanded polystyrene (EPS) that ends up in Australian landfill every year.
“When you get your computer or washing machine home from the department store it comes packaged with moulded EPS,” says RMAX general manager Graham Attwood.
“EPS not only provides great impact protection but also thermal protection as in the case of the fresh food industry—the boxes that keep sensitive food stuffs, such as fruit and vegetables, cool.
“What we’re trying to do with this project is to provide a viable alternative to EPS that is biodegradable, and made from a renewable non-oil-based raw material.”
The key to the project is developing a new formulation that can be used in existing EPS-moulding machinery.
A “prototype box” was formed using a biodegradable polymer tweaked by CSIRO scientists, though its properties are not yet a close match for EPS.
It was also not yet sufficiently cost effective to produce, Graham says, though the cost dynamics would shift as the oil price and landfill charges increased and the project had a promising future.
“Ultimately we’ll get to a point where we’ll have a fit-for-purpose solution,” Graham says.
“There will also come a point where it will become very commercially attractive to make the switch to a greener technology.”
The initiative is being supported with a $720,000 collaborative science and innovation grant from the Victorian Government.
Photo: The prototype biodegradable polymer box (on the left) alongside a standard expanded polystyrene box.
Credit: Gary Toikka, CSIRO
Victorian Department of Business and Innovation, www.business.vic.gov.au/innovation