Seeking sustainable packaging solutions

UNBC researchers led by Dr. Hossein Kazemian are exploring solutions to create plant-based solutions to replace oil-based products used in seafood packaging.

October 19, 2022
Dr. Nasim Ghavidel (from left), Dr. Hossein Kazemien and Helena Mirzabeigi in lab coats hold circular samples of wood-based foam
Dr. Nasim Ghavidel (from left), Dr. Hossein Kazemien and Helena Mirzabeigi demonstrate their wood-based hybrid solution as they study ways to make seafood packaging more sustainable.

Styrofoam and other petroleum-based packaging revolutionized the seafood food packaging and transportation industries, but landfills around the world are filling up with the plastic material that will take hundreds of years to decompose. UNBC researcher Dr. Hossein Kazemian is collaborating with industry to explore ways to use new materials to create bio a renewable and biodegradable hybrid packaging solution. 

Kazemian, the head of Northern Analytical Laboratory Services (NALS) and the Lead Principle Investigator of the Materials Technology & Environmental Research (MATTER) team at UNBC, is partnering with Brown's Bay Packaging Company Limited to develop a new kind of foam that will provide the thermal insulation required to keep seafood fresh, but have a significantly smaller environmental footprint. 

Kazemian and Brown Bay Packaging Company Limited recently received a $300,000 Ignite grant from Innovate BC to continue their research.

“The innovation is to develop an alternative to expanded polystyrene (EPS Styrofoam) by providing a plant-based bioplastic foam that is cost-competitive to oil-based Styrofoam for the purpose of fresh fish transport," Kazemian says.

The scale of the current packaging challenge is immense. Every year, seafood suppliers use hundreds of millions of plastic containers to ship their products safely. As jurisdictions around the world are imposing bans on single-use plastics, it is imperative to develop new products that can replicate the performance of petroleum-based plastic, but come from a sustainable source.

The solution Kazemian’s team has come up with is first to create hybrid packing using cardboard for structure and isothermal starch foam inserts for insulation as well as water resistance. The starch is biodegradable and can be produced on a large scale at a low cost. It’s also chemically inert and meets all food safety requirements. 

“Our innovation will continually improve the polymer combinations providing cost efficiency with novel formulations and advancements in properties, for example, water resistance with consideration for biomass availability in large-scale manufacturing," says Dr. Nasim Ghavidel, the Elevate Postdoc who leads this research and development project at the MATTER lab.

The project also received support from Mitacs, through the Accelerate and Elevate programs as well as UBC National Circular Economy Seed Funding Award through the  National Research Council of Canada