Those bits that come inside your packages are called peanuts, but of course they are made from polystyrene, not anything natural. But what if we could send things packaged in popcorn—the actual food, not another plastic-derived counterpart—instead?
That’s the hope of researchers at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who have developed the plant-based packaging and are already in talks for its commercial use. Whereas polystyrene-based packaging like Styrofoam takes centuries to break down and is made from nonrenewable fossil fuels, popcorn is easily renewable, biodegradable, and could even be composted at home.
The idea to use popcorn as packaging first came to Alireza Kharazipour, head of the research group that developed the packaging and a professor at the university’s Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology, when he was at the movies. “In the dark, the popcorn felt just as light as styropol foam balls,” he says. “The next day I bought corn and made popcorn at home in a pot.” Eventually, those experiments moved into the lab at the University of Göttingen.