In an era where plastic and plastic-based products have become a major environmental hazard for the world, three students from Indian Institute of Technology – Madras (IIT-M) have come up with ‘an eco-friendly alternative to package edible and non-edible products.’
It has just been few days since the three students spoke about their product at a national competition and it has already caught the attention of several companies who are interested in using and manufacturing such packages.
The three, R Praneeth Srivanth, B Shantini and Abhishek Vinakollu, are students of the Chemical Engineering department of IIT-M who have developed a printable three thin-layered sachet which is made from cellophane.
The cellophane sachet, if taken up, can serve as an eco- friendly replacement for widely used plastic and aluminium packages.
The sachets are made from regenerated cellulose which means starch, polyvinyl alcohol, a water-soluble synthetic polymer, and a natural vitamin-like molecule, all of which are non-hazardous.
According to Praneeth, he and his team worked for four months on the material for sachets as they needed something strong, flexible, light in weight and water-resistant.
They also skimmed through many research papers on biodegradable material and existing eco-friendly packaging products before zeroing in on cellophane.
As cellophane is regenerated cellulose, it makes the product strong and thus serves as a strong alternative to plastic.
The three students were guided by a senior professor R Dhamodharan, who recommended them to make cellophane as the innermost material because it had all the properties of polyethylene.
For the middle layer, the students used cellophane with a coat of aluminium, keeping it to minimum.
The outermost layer in turn needed a material that was not only strong, but also flexible while possessing a quality to make colourful prints.
This was the hardest area to work upon and after much research, the team decided to use a combination of starch, polyvinyl alcohol and a natural vitamin-like molecule and use a polyurethane-based adhesive to put the thin films together.
The final product is 50 microns thick (one micron is one billionth of a metre) but costs much more than the existing plastic packets.
Though a little expensive, this alternative is 100% biodegradable and safer for the environment.
It is reported that over the years plastic and aluminium sachets’ disposal has become a major problem for India with a production of about 28 billion plastic sachets a year by the consumer products sector here.