The fast-food industry has for a long time been characterized by plastic products since plastic is cheap, hygienic, and light but strong. Though, there is an ambiguity in making these products in plastic since it has the capacity to last for 450 years, whereas the period of use is most commonly around 20 minutes. A large percentage of the plastic that is circulating in our environment comes from the fast-food industry’s products, probably since they are grab and go-friendly. This, in combination with their quality, is devastating for the environment.
Pontus Törnqvist, Swedish 25 years old Industrial Designer from Göteborg with focus on society and climate-related issues invented Potato Plastic, a biodegradable material, made of potato starch, for one-time use products. This means that it will decompose to nutrients for the soil in only two months when it ends up in nature. Potato Plastic with the fast-food industry in focus can be used for products such as cutleries, straws and salt bags.Pontus Törnqvist is the winner of The James Dyson Award, an international design award that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers. It’s open to current and recent design engineering students and is run by the James Dyson Foundation, James Dyson’s charitable trust, as part of its mission to get young people excited about design engineering.Potato Plastic is consisting of only potato starch and water. The technical part of this product is the production of the material. First, the exact amount of both ingredients are mixed together and then heated until the fluid thickens. It is then poured into moulds and exposed to heat until is a dry compact piece. Regarding how much fluid is poured into a mould, the material can either become a thick, tough piece, or a thin film. This material is a kind of thermoplastic, which means that it can be moulded under compression when it is exposed to heat and moisture. This opens up for many design possibilities, regarding everything from product selection to detailed patterns on the surface of the material. Since no extreme heat is needed, the moulds can be made of plastic. This decreases the cost significantly compared to if the moulds would be made of metal.“My aim with this project was that we should question the way that we are using and producing plastic, and therefore illustrate an example of a material that could work as a substitute material for it. Since I am targeting the fast-food’s product culture, my brief was: Create biodegradable one-time use-products for the fast-food industry. My project was experiment-based, which means that trials and errors of experiments led me forward. My focus was to find a natural binder that could work as a composite material. My number one priority was to use seaweed as the main ingredient since it is a good nutrition source. This in mind, because I wanted the product to actually do good at the place where it would be seen as litter. Many more and less failed attempts to create a material of basic baking ingredients and seaweed that resulted in cookie-like pieces led me to a lucky discovery. In one experiment, I used water and potato starch as a binder for the seaweed. The result was not that successful, but I discovered that a little of the fluid had been spilt and had dried to a plastic-like film. After that lucky mistake, I put the seaweed aside and lay all my focus on controlling the potato starch. Eventually, my production resulted in products such as cutleries and salt bags.” stated Pontus Törnqvist, student of Lund University.