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HomeIndigenous newsBC scientists and First Nation create decaying 'biofoam' packaging from wood waste

BC scientists and First Nation create decaying ‘biofoam’ packaging from wood waste


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Styrofoam can take 500 years to decompose as it inflates landfills around the world, but new packaging material called biofoam, made from forest waste, can break down in a matter of weeks, scientists say.

University of British Columbia researcher Feng Jiang says it’s a potential environmental advantage, because Styrofoam currently fills up to 30 percent of landfills.

“We’ve been doing some tests, putting biofoam on the ground, and then it started to degrade and after two months, it will be completely gone,” said Jiang, an assistant professor in the university’s faculty of forestry and Canada Research Center. . Chair in sustainable functional biomaterials.

The biofoam project is a collaboration between the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in central BC and researchers at the University of BC.

The association came about three years ago when Jiang met with Reg Ogen, Chairman and CEO of the First Nation’s Yinka Dene Economic Development Limited Partnership, at a gathering hosted by the British Columbia Ministry of Forestry.

Jiang and his fellow scientists listened to First Nations members describe their concerns about what to do with wood waste on their land.

Samples of a biodegradable foam in various stages of decomposition are seen in a brochure photo dated November 5. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-UBC, Lou Bosshart)

Ogen said that wildfires and mountain pine beetle infestations in the 1990s and 2000s created large amounts of waste that they wanted to use in a meaningful way.

“We met with Dr. Jiang there and looked at different ways to use waste wood and finally came up with a product that I think we can do some good with. And hopefully, at the end of the day, keep all of the foam from Styrofoam from landfills and then make sure we continue to protect Mother Earth,” Ogen said.

He said that seeing the waste transformed into a useful material made him smile.

Potential for new jobs

Ogen hopes the biofoam will create First Nations jobs lost when the pine beetle epidemic swept through their logging industry.

“One of our main goals is to make sure that our next generations are taken care of and ensure that they have good job opportunities,” he said.

“With this opportunity, we don’t necessarily have to look for [only] in our backyard. There are other areas in Western Canada that we could look at, including in the United States or abroad. I think there is a great opportunity for it to be a worldwide success.”

Biofoam’s texture is similar to Styrofoam and can be similarly molded into different shapes. Its natural origin makes its color slightly darker.

While the specific ingredients remain a secret, it is made by grinding wood into fiber to create a slurry, then non-toxic chemicals are added, and finally the mixture is placed in an 80C oven.

Jiang said the process is similar to baking.

“After a couple of hours, we take it out, like a big cake,” Jiang said.

On the coast6:37Work is underway on a new biodegradable packaging foam that is not harmful to the environment

Dr. Feng Jiang talks with Gloria Macarenko about a new biodegradable packing foam developed with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

investors are needed

Investors and manufacturers are now being sought to launch a pilot plant to produce biofoam in BC next year.

A secondary benefit of the project could be the mitigation of forest fires fueled by wood debris, Jiang said.

Intellectual ownership of the project is shared by Jiang’s team and the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, UBC said in a statement.

Jiang said environmental sustainability is his passion, and while it’s not realistic to replace all plastics with natural fibers, he wants to emphasize what he called the three R’s: reuse, recycle and replace plastics.

“Whenever I see a product on the market, I always think: can we replace it with natural fiber? I also keep asking my students the same question. Throughout my entire career, I want to use my knowledge and experience to create something that is beneficial to society and the planet,” Jiang said.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta-Canadian Press News Fellowship, not involved in the editorial process.

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