Introduction: why smart packaging
Wouldn’t it be nice to have packaging that autonomously reacts to changes in its environment? Embedded with a kind of intellligence allowing it to "know" when it has reached the end of its lifecycle and so it can change its properties in an act of "self-recycling"?
The idea that a product’s characteristics may change over time (especially after having been triggered by a certain stimulus) is also found in the concept of 4D-printing (in which the fourth dimension refers to the time-dimension representing the period until the change in the configuration of a 3D-printed object occurs).
The change of the physical properties of an object is achieved through the incorporation of so-called "smart materials" that react on internal or external stimuli (e. g. pressure, magnetism, temperature, UV-light, etc.). Examples of such materials are functional fluids, chromogenous materials, shape memory materials, piezoelectric materials, and others.
Industrial applications for certain of these materials exist (e. g. self-darkening windows through thermochromous polymers or stents made of shape memory alloys) but I don’t know if there are any applications in the packaging industry (do you? then please comment below).
In order to obtain the desired change in the final object (e. g. a shape change in a certain direction) the configuration of the materials used has to be programmed geometrically, for example through the use of "variable property modeling".
Vision: how smart packaging can help prevent plastic waste
When initially conceiving the idea I was thinking about plastic waste that ends up in the ocen, whose decomposition could be triggered through the elevated salt content in its environment.
I have no idea about plastic decomposition on a molecular level, but perhaps somebody in this community here does? Please comment below!
Further, I was thinking that perhaps one could develop a layered plastic packaging in which one layer experiences sharp drops in ph-value when the stimulus occurs, thereby forming acid and dissolving the packaging (this would not work in the ocean though because the acid would be diluted).
With this design it has to be discriminated between cases where the plastic packaging is not directed towards recycling facilities (for whatever reason) and cases where the plastic packaging end up in a dedicated facility. In the former case, the stimulus would has to occur naturally in the environment and in the latter, the stimulus could be inflicted in a controlled matter.
Here are some sources for further reading and information (please contanct me if you would like to have more sources or a discussion of the idea).
- Alysia Garmulewicz (2016), “Raw Intelligence:. How Data Flows Work, and Why They Matter”. http://circulatenews.org/2016/10/how-big-data-flows-work-and-why-they-matter/
- Kula, Daniel, Ternaux, Élodie, and Hirsinger, Quentin. Materiology: The creatives guide to materials and technolo-gies. Amsterdam, Basel: Frame Publishers; Birkhäu-ser, op. 2014.
- Oxman, N. (2011), “Variable property rapid prototyping”, Virtual and Physical Pro-totyping, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 3–31.
- Pei, E. (2014), “4D Printing. Dawn of an emerging technology cycle”, Assembly Au-tomation, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 310–314.
- Rieland, Randy. (2014). Forget the 3D Printer: 4D Printing Could Change Everything. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/Objects-That-Change-Shape-On-Their-Own-180951449/
- Tibbits, Skylar (2013), TED-Talk: The emergence of “4D printing”. https://www.ted.com/talks/skylar_tibbits_the_emergence_of_4d_printing