What is BioBrainstorm?

This practicum is designed to allow participants to dive deep into the specific biomimicry tools and techniques of a BioBrainstorm. Working in teams, each team will identify a challenge, discover relevant strategies from the biological literature, interpret and translate the scientific information including creating illustrative graphics, summarize the findings, build a taxonomy, and learn how to present the information in a biomimicry context so that it is relevant to design.

Re-Thinking Plastic Bottles

Plastics in the ocean are receiving increased media attention. Plastic products range from common domestic material (e.g., bags, Styrofoam cups, bottles, and balloons) to industrial products (e.g., strapping bands, plastic sheeting, hard hats, and resin pellets) to lost or discarded fishing gear (e.g., nets, buoys, traps, and lines). In North America, the largest plastic market is packaging, accounting for ~ 30 percent of all plastic applications, and, of this sector, beverage containers account for about 20 percent by weight (Franklin Associates 2014).

The durability and resistance to degradation of plastics bring great value in industrial applications but also difficulty in terms of natural systems’ assimilation. Of ~ 6,300 million tons of global plastic waste ever produced, less than 10 percent has been recycled and about 10 percent has been incinerated, which means the remaining ~ 80 percent has ended up in landfills or the natural environment, i.e., terrestrial or aquatic systems (Geyer, Jambeck, & Law 2017).

One approach to solving the problem of ocean plastics is to find ways to collect and remove these substances. Another approach is to rethink our use of plastics in the first place. For this challenge in particular, beverage industries such as Coca-Cola are looking for biomimics to help the company rethink the plastic beverage container’s aside from using heavy glass bottles’ and to find life-friendly ways to contain their product that results in components breaking down into benign constituents rather than polluting marine ecosystems.

Currently, Coca-Cola’s beverage products are primarily packaged in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles – about 60 percent (Coca-Cola 2017). An additional challenge is that of plastic industrial sector uses, packaging applications have the shortest lifetime distribution (Geyer, Jambeck, & Law 2017). That is, plastic beverage containers have a very high throughput rate in human systems. Coca-Cola estimates that 1.9 billion servings of Coca-Cola Company beverages are consumed each day (Coca-Cola 2017).

From the biomimicry perspective, a primary function that is the most relevant to address in this design challenge will be the focus of this design project. We choose to ask ‘how does nature form a gas impermeable barrier to store liquids under pressure (at least 55 psi), low pH (2-4), and varying temperatures (~35-110 degrees F)’ as our primary function.

Franklin Associates (2014). Impact of plastics packaging on life cycle energy consumption & greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and Canada: Substitution Analysis, Prepared for the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) by Franklin Associates, A Division of Eastern Research Group (ERG) January 2014. Accessed March 17, 2019 at: https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/Education-Resources/Life-Cycle-Assessment-Study/Executive-Summary-Impact-of-Plastics-Packaging-on-Life-Cycle-Energy-Consumption.pdf.

Geyer R, Jambeck JR, Law KL (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made, Science Advances 3:1-5. Accessed March 17, 2019 at: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782/tab-pdf.

Coca-Cola (2017). 2017 Sustainability Report for the Coca-Cola Company,© 2018 THE COCA-COLA COMPANY, Accessed March 18, 2019 at: https://www.coca-colacompany.com/content/dam/journey/us/en/private/fileassets/pdf/2018/2017-Sustainability-Report-The-Coca-Cola-Company.pdf.

Reflection

After researching over 100 organisms, team ReTHINK settled on 15 “champion adaptors” that have the potential to inspire innovative and sustainable solutions to the ‘re-thinking plastic bottles’ challenge. See the report below to learn more!

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