Iowa State University Consortium Partners with Industry to Solve Unsolvable Waste Problems | KWBG AM1590 and 101.5 FM | Boon, Iowa


AMES, Iowa—The Consortium on Polymers and Food Protection at Iowa State University works with some of the biggest companies in Iowa and around the world to help make their products safer and more sustainable.

“Industries look to us to solve big problems,” said Keith Vorst, consortium leader and associate professor in food science and human nutrition.

The main mission of the consortium is to create new uses for waste that would otherwise go to landfill. This includes single-use plastics and food and agricultural waste as diverse as rice husks, roasted coffee bean flakes and corn cobs.

“Unfortunately, most things that people think are recycled aren’t,” Vorst said. “For example, only around 9% of the total plastic waste stream is recycled. We want to close the loop by taking the trash that people put in their blue bins, tractor-trailers or wagons, and having it recycled.

To do this, the consortium examines every step of the recycling and manufacturing process, from material formulation, waste separation and collection, packing and packaging, and all related considerations, including sanitation. and food safety, shelf life extension, and odor characterization and mitigation.

Vorst started the consortium in California and was recruited to come to Iowa State in 2014, where he began building a team that now includes Greg Curtzwiler, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, and Shan Jiang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, as well as graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

Based in the state of Iowa BioCentury Research Farm West of Ames, the Consortium is gaining increasing attention for its work in solving intractable problems. The team has recently been featured in “The New York Times” and the trade publication “Chemical and Engineering News”, as well as in scientific journals.

The team works with industries that make everything from styrofoam packing peanuts (think foam take-out containers) to vending machine containers, from pet food to furniture. They just completed a project with Muscatine, Iowa-based HNI, one of the world’s largest office furniture companies, to create a bio-based foam strong enough for seat cushions. They also recently completed a commercial trial of a new herbal reseal adhesive made from bladder pod oil with American Packaging in Story City, Iowa.

The consortium is beginning to work with the city of Ames to redirect more single-use plastics destined for landfill to new uses and to find other uses for fly ash from its incinerator. “In the process, we will reduce landfill costs and the potential for environmental contamination, while creating economic value and creating jobs,” Vorst said.

Last year, the consortium won the McDonald’s Global Food Safety Packaging Award for its work with the company’s Anticipatory Issue Management team on sustainability efforts to reduce waste and use more recycled and bio-based packaging. safer. The company’s goals include eliminating the use of food packaging contaminated with the “forever” chemical compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, ubiquitous in synthetic products and bioaccumulating in foods. living tissues across the planet.

A peer-reviewed article on the consortium’s work on PFAS in the “Integrated Environmental Assessment and Managementby Curtzwiler, Vorst and others has been recognized as a “Top Cited Article” for 2020-2021 by Scientific Editor Wiley.

Curtzwiler emphasized that the consortium is focused on practical and cost-effective applications. “Yes, we do basic research that can take years to fully realize, but our specialty is finding solutions that will work tomorrow or within three to five years. We work with companies that want to grow now.

Funding for the consortium comes from its industrial partnerships, currently 18 in number, as well as significant in-kind contributions of equipment from partner industries. Vorst and Curtzwiler have received support for related work from nonprofits and state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Food and Drug Administration, and Institute National Food and Agriculture Ministry of Agriculture.

The team is more than busy responding to companies that want to demonstrate environmental leadership and reduce their carbon footprint, either voluntarily or in response to regulations. The consortium is so busy that staff have had to limit the number of companies they can work with directly. Others will have to queue.

Keith Vorst, director, Polymer and Food Protection Consortium at Iowa State University.

(contributed press release, ISUCALS)

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