Bubble wrap

Bubble wrap – The popular, poppable packing material was actually invented serendipitously. Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes were trying (unsuccessfully) to design a plastic wallpaper, and in the process discovered that their invention made an effective packing material. The entrepreneurs went on to found the Sealed Air Corporation, a company that now produces annual revenues exceeding $8 billion, and it employs 26,300 people in 175 countries.


  • eliminates waste
  • is waste
  • is recycled

Packaging is a big challenge. Here are some examples of innovative solutions to packaging

  • plastic-aluminum laminates – used for toothpaste tubes and in recent years has gained popularity as pouches for food, drink and pet food.
  • Edible food packaging – The packaging we discard is stuff like paper, cardboard, glass, plastics, wood, and metals, and it all ends up in huge landfills or as trash polluting nature. WikiCells is a new technology addressing this growing, global issue – commercial food products with edible packaging. WikiCells surround any food or beverage with a skin like a grape skin that’s fully edible.

What’s the problem?
economical recycling of plastic-aluminum laminates (video 5:10) – used for toothpaste tubes and in recent years has gained popularity as pouches for food, drink and pet food.

  • Ask – Unlike aluminum containers and plastic containers, the plastic-aluminum laminate containers are not recyclable because of they contain both materials – each is considered an impurity for the recycling of the other material.
  • Imagine – Food in a laminate package overcooked in a microwave, leaves a charred mass of carbon that glowed red-hot. The process is known as microwave-induced pyrolysis, where organic material succumbs to thermochemical decomposition when exposed to high temperatures. This leaves a clean form of the metal contained within the material, which can then be recovered.
  • Design, Build – Particulate carbon and some shredded laminate packaging inside a standard 1.2 kW kitchen microwave oven. They then replaced the air inside the oven with nitrogen and turned the oven on at full power until the temperature inside reached around 600° C (1,112° F). After two minutes, the laminated material had separated into impurity-free aluminum flakes and hydrocarbon gases and oil.
  • Improve – the power of the oven in the commercial-scale plant has been increased to 150 kW and is large enough to be housed in a 100 m2 (1,076 ft2) industrial unit. It takes three minutes to convert the packaging into aluminum for smelting and hydrocarbons for fuel, with no toxic emissions.

That’s engineering

  • hydrocarbon (HC) – A compound made up of hydrogen and carbon (e.g., gasoline , petroleum products, etc.).
  • laminate – To build up or construct out of a number of thin sheets.

Engineering ideas

  • laminate, plastic-aluminum laminate (PAL), organic material, thermochemical decomposition, impurity-free aluminum, hydrocarbon, pyrolysis

Do it
Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • potato chip mailer
  • egg drop
  • Fruit – Is there a way to package bananas so they don’t go bad so quickly?

Learn more…