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National Winner

Potato Plastic

Potato Plastic is a biodegradable material for one time use-products, in this case with the fast-food industry in focus.

  • Fork made of Potato Plastic.

  • Decomposing material example, after 1.5 months.

  • Salt bag.

  • Ingredients that have been used in experiments.

  • Fork, knife and salt bag, with examples of colored thin films.

What it does

Potato Plastic is a biodegradable material, made of potato starch. This means that it will decompose to nutrients for the soil in only two months when it ends up in the nature. Potato Plastic can be used for products such as cutleries, straws and saltbags.


Your inspiration

The fast-food industry has for a long time been characterized by plastic products, since plastic is cheap, hygienic, and light but strong. Though, there is an ambiguity in making these products in plastic since it has the capacity to last for 450 years, whereas the period of use is most commonly around 20 minutes. A large percentage of the plastic that is circulating in our environment comes from the fast-food industry's products, probably since they are grab and go-friendly. This, in combination with their quality, is devastating for the environment. Therefore, I see an opportunity in adapting their quality to their planned length of life.


How it works

Potato Plastic is consisting of only potato starch and water. The technical part of this product is the production of the material. First, the exact amount of both ingredients are mixed together, and then heated until the fluid thickens. It is then poured into molds and exposed to heat until is a dry compact piece. Regarding of how much fluid is poured into a mold, the material can either become a thick, tough piece, or a thin film. This material is a kind of thermoplastic, which means that it can be molded under compression when it is exposed to heat and moisture. This opens up for many design possibilities, regarding everything from product selection to detailed patterns on the surface of the material. Since no extreme heat is needed, the molds can be made of plastic. This decreases the cost significantly compared to if the molds would be made of metal.


Design process

My aim with this project was that we should question the way that we are using and producing plastic, and therefore illustrate an example of a material that could work as a substitute material for it. Since I am targeting the fast-food’s product culture, my brief was: Create biodegradable one time use-products for the fast-food industry. My project was experiment-based, which means that trials and errors of experiments led me forward. My focus was to find a natural binder that could work as a composite material. My number one priority was to use seaweed as the main ingredient, since it is a good nutrition source. This in mind, because I wanted the product to actually do good at the place where it would be seen as litter. Many more and less failed attempts to create a material of basically baking ingredients and seaweed that resulted in cookie-like pieces, led me to a lucky discovery. In one experiment, I used water and potato starch as a binder for the seaweed. The result was not that successful, but I discovered that a little of the fluid had been spilled and had dried to a plastic-like film. After that lucky mistake, I put the seaweed aside and lay all my focus on controlling the potato starch. Eventually, my production resulted in products such as cutleries and salt bags.


How it is different

Today, we create more waste than ever. My proposal to this will not solve the problem of littering, but I take responsibility for the product from production to after use. In order for us to maintain our lifestyles, we have to adapt to a more cyclic way of thinking. This material is made of what comes from our earth, and it can later on just as well end up in the soil without any risks for the nature. What I want to achieve with this project is to make littering to be a conscious act instead of an unconcerned behaviour. As I said, I don’t think that this project is the solution to the problem. Though, I believe that achieving big changes in the society comes with taking small steps in the right direction. The products that are made from this material should not be used more than one time, as a statement to question the capacity of today's disposable products.


Future plans

I wish to proceed with this project and see how a professional production can open up possibilities. Since I am from Sweden and we have large potato farmings, I felt that potato starch would be suitable because of all the waste and "ugly potatoes" from this market. Though, I see a future possibility to adapt the starch after the country where the product will be sold. If the country has higher production of rise, for example, starch from rise could be used instead. This, because I see an ecological and an economical benefit in using the waste that we already have instead of creating new waste.


Awards


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