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Trigger Film

A smart packaging film that's stable for the shelf life of the product but pulls the self destruct trigger as soon as the pack is opened.

Photo of Alan Somerfield
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Trigger Film is the type of film that is typically used in food packaging as closures for containers. The advantages of the conventional films are that they are lightweight, easily opened and transparent. Their disadvantages are that due to their lightweight nature they are difficult to recycle cost effectively and are easily lost into the environment where they become long term pollutants.

One solution to this problem is to make the film biodegradable so that if it does become lost into the environment it can be broken down over time back into its organic components. However, the current designs of such biodegradable films can take many years to decompose and may not end up in an environment where the degrading process can work i.e. at the bottom of the ocean where there is no oxygen or the temperature is too low. Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme says in a recent report on biodegradable plastics “It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,”

When used for packaging there is a conflict between the need for the film to decompose quickly after use and the need for the package to have a commercially acceptable shelf life before the package is opened which may  years. Clearly a film that breaks down in air over a few months would not be acceptable as the seal on a container of dried noodles as a hole in the seal would render the product unsaleable.

Trigger Film aims to overcome these problems by providing a film that has 2 distinct phases; stable and degrading. The film is designed to remain in its stable phase from the time it is manufactured, through the process and conversion into package film and during its life as a package seal. However, at the time the package is opened the film is shifted into its degrading phase which lasts from the moment the package is opened to the end of the film's life.

By splitting the life-cycle of the film into these two distinct phases it becomes possible to achieve films with longer shelf lives and faster degradation.

Idea Title

Trigger Film - This package, should you choose to open it, will self destruct in 30 days.

Where are you / your team located?

Located in the East Midlands in the UK about 90 minutes from London.

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

This design doesn't prevent these types of films getting into the environment but makes sure they are not a pollutant for long once they get there. Alternatively if they do make it back to the recycling facility and end up in landfill they will quickly breakdown and return to nature.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

This idea was inspired by Michael together with Trevor and Benjamin. With best will in the world the food packaging industry will want to use tear offs as a sealing method since they offer many advantages. This idea works by substituting a smart material into existing infrastructure.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

This idea has application in all parts of the world where modern consumer food packaging is used.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

The advantage of Trigger Film is that once the the film has been developed it can be supplied in exactly the same format i.e. on a roll to the industry where it will be just a simple case of swapping the materials over at the point of use. Currently there is a great deal of research going on into what substances can be used to break down plastic - like waxworm enzymes. When a suitable substance is found it can become the catalytic layer of Trigger Film

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Trigger Film is just one example of how advanced materials can be used in practical applications. I'm hoping that the NPEAP can support the idea by introducing it to the R&D community who are working on the science that is needed to make a product like this work.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

This is an individual idea inspired by Graphene. It is often fascinating to take things down to the atomic level and imagine what could be done. It was also a result of all the research I did for my Kap Keep contribution which highlighted how resistant to change the manufacturing industry was so a new material would have to be 'plug and play' into the existing systems.

Tell us about your work experience

I'm an engineer who went to art college at the RCA and have spent 30 years inventing new products. I've been self employed and employed in showers, catering and construction to name but a few.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Sole Trader


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Alan Somerfield thanks for submitting another idea to the platform! Do you have a website for this product?

Looking ahead, you might consider helping the OpenIDEO community better grasp how this idea could play out by describing the next steps! What are some the next and timeline to bring your idea to market?

Excited to hear more about this idea as well, Alan!

Photo of Alan Somerfield

Hi Lauren Ito ,
You know I've had so much fun being creative for this challenge - it's so wonderful to be able to think freely without the commercial confines of the day job!
Anyhow to answer your question.....
This idea is definitely my most conceptual (so no website yet!) and requires a whole bunch of R&D that is outside my skill set which is why this challenge is a great environment to expose it in. So the steps might be:
1) Find the industry experts in laminated film manufacturing
2) Find the scientists who are developing or can develop the different layer materials that work together in the unique way I'm suggesting here.
3) Raise the funding required to get the R&D done
4) Create proof of principle lab experiment (the whole project could stop here if it doesn't work!!!)
5) Make sample test pieces
6) Present to the industry to get support from packaging manufacturers
7) Add manufacturers to the R&D team.
8) Develop and trial first complete packages
9) Test, test, test
10) License technology to packaging businesses.

This will take time and money and I hope this challenge gives me the opportunity to develop it further!
Thanks, Alan

Photo of Marissa Vettoretti

This is an amazing idea! What a great way to make plastic films circular without disturbing how we use them. Is there a certain amount of force needed until the layers will combine together? Will the layers be able to stay intact if products are thrown around and face impacts during the production and distribution of the products?

Photo of Alan Somerfield

Hi Marissa,

Thanks for the feedback! This is an early stage idea that will a lot of R&D to develop but I'm confident that the ingredients needed are already out there or in development. Multi layer films are already in common use in packaging and the manufacturing methods mean they stay stuck firmly together for ever - which is of course a problem for the environment! The method bring the different layers of the trigger film together as the packet is opened will be a main focus of the development!
Thanks, Alan