Sustainable packaging for sustainably produced goods: developing cost-effective compostable packaging through local supply chains

Principal investigator: Radika Bhaskar

University: Thomas Jefferson University

Industry partner: Think and Grow Farms

As businesses shift away from environmentally harmful expanded polystyrene (EPS), such as Styrofoam, there is enormous opportunity for sustainable packaging alternatives. Materials derived from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, have many advantages, including a low carbon footprint and the ability to meet many structural or functional needs. In this project, we will collaborate with Think and Grow Farms, a Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprise-listed business, to develop and test hemp-reinforced mycelium composites as a sustainable and cost-effective compostable packaging alternative to polystyrene. We will screen different mushroom and hemp combinations to evaluate relevant physical and mechanical properties. Performance of optimal composites will be compared with existing commercial packaging products while simultaneously analyzing opportunities for expansion of applications beyond packaging and further product development.

This project will allow Think and Grow Farms to replace polystyrene in packaging to ship their existing line of sustainable products and further advance their closed-loop mission. It will also benefit both established and burgeoning agricultural industries in Pennsylvania, such as the mushroom and hemp industries. Project success would not only initiate a locally based sustainability business venture in Pennsylvania but also advance a circular economy centered on Pennsylvania-based agricultural waste streams.