Locally Grown… Styrofoam?!

Every once in a while you come across an idea that just lights you up. Styrofoam has long been one of the unmoveables when it came to recycling (too bulky, not much money in it) and there wasn’t a viable replacement for it. Easy to make, lots of it, hard to sustainably dispogreensulate natural styrofoam substitutese of, what are you going to do? Reducing the amount of it in packaging is one path, but is only less bad. What about an option that is all good?

I found a contender: Ecovative Design has come up with a number of products for packaging, building insulation, foam core (think: surfboards) and ye olde beer cooler that do away with styrofoam, using agricultural waste. And, making this even better, the ingredients for the product will come from local sources, whichever is the most prevalent in the area that it’s made.

So rather than trucking the same ag waste 1000s of miles to other regional factories, they have come up with a product that can flex what it contains without compromising the quality or integrity. For example, cellulose pulp from areas with lots of paper mills, and rice hulls in Texas, where a lot of rice is processed.

And it’s compostable, biodegradable, and if sent back to Ecovative, recyclable. Take that, styrofoam!

Where did this idea come from? Why The Inventor’s Studio, a class at the Renssalear Polytechnic Institute of course. Eben Bayer and Gavin Mcintyre were inspired by…a beer cooler. Yes, those styrofoam cheapies people buy on their way to the coast and frequently toss them on the road side got them thinking, there has to be another way.

And now there is. They’ve created Greensulate Insulation, Negative Volume (for packaging) and the aforementioned cooler. They area also in discussions with several surf board companies to use their product rather than the usual foam core.

My first thought when seeing mention of building materials and biodegradable was one of concern. Bayer made the point that wood, a common building material, is biodegradable as well. True enough. In the case of their products, they’d require specific conditions to biodegrade, which a housing application does not provide. An internal pipe break would not be an issue. An ongoing slow leak would, the same as with anything else typically found in construction. They are currently thoroughly testing there products to comply with ASTM and International Building Code standards.

Their aim was to create a product that is of similar performance at a lower price, produced much more sustainably, and ultimately able to return to the earth when done. They seem to be succeeding.

What does the future hold for them? They are continuing to validate their products for wide use in construction, packaging, and surfboard cores. And the results?

Combustability testing has demonstrated that Greensulate can function as a firewall, as well as an insulator.

Greensulate combined with bamboo has the possibility of having 75 times the compressive strength of styrofoam. Learn more here about what they’ve got in the works.

How can you help? They’re looking for construction companies to incorporate GreenSulate in their products. Perhaps you are or know one? Be a part of reducing the ubiquitous use of styrofoam, and increasing the use of what would otherwise be waste. Not unlike Verterra, plates made entirely out of leaves that would otherwise be burnt as  agricultural “waste.”

Readers: What other naturally derived substitutes for the status quo have you been using, think we should know about? Add your two cents below please.

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Additional reading about greenstitutes:

Greening How You Do Takeout: What Works Ecopreneurist

Terracycle + Office Max = Innovative Green Office/School SuppliesEcopreneurist

Bio Based Lubricants: Not Just for Sex AnymoreEcopreneurist

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About the Author

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media. Who he has and wants to work with includes consumer, media, clean tech, NGOs, social ventures, and museums. For more on GreenSmith Consulting, see www.greensmithconsulting.com He also writes for Triple Pundit www.triplepundit.com