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Plastic Zero - Using a Shape Memory Polymer (SMP)

Shape Memory Polymer (SMP) is an active and elastic polymeric smart materials that have a dual-shape capability.

Photo of Jessica Danyella

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Plastic packaging usually ends up in the landfill, but some previous research that has been done designed a new type of packaging that be reused. Shape memory polymer (SMP) are an elastic polymer that has been altered to give a dynamic shape "memory" properties.  It can changes from a rigid polymer to an elastic state which will recover its "memory" shape once it is left unrestrained. 

What is happening with the shape memory is that the internal structure of  a solid material that can change back and forth between two very different forms, its molecules are rearranging in a completely reversible way. This state is called austenite and martensite where at lower temperatures, they take the martensite form which is relatively easy to shape and soft; and they will transform  into austenite, which is a harder material that is much more difficult to deformed at higher temperatures. Previous study said that packages could be sent back to the manufacturer to be reused in an endless loop as this material can be flattened easily and can be returned into the original shape. This also raise the awareness of implementing the Circular Economy principle where a business or an industry moves toward linear consumption towards reuse.

However, there will be necessary to conduct another research regarding the safety in regards to use this shape memory polymer materials.

How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

This solution is related to Use Case number #3 as the shape memory polymers can be used as an alternative to make a take-away hot coffee lids. It won't change the coffee lids shape as it will transformed to a hard material and hard to deformed at a higher temperatures. This material is easy to be transformed back to the previous shape.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

It seems impossible to totally eliminate plastic from our lives, but there are important steps where technology and innovation can take further steps to reduce the amount of plastic we use everyday. Especially seeing from the large coffee consumption basically in every country. Thus, it has raised the awareness of technology and innovation that is problem solving for a sustainable environment.

Tell us about yourself

I am a Master of Management student and currently taking a subject of Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. I am curious in learning how innovation can possibly solve the problem in our lives.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lindawati Tjioe

What a great innovation Jessica! However, i wonder whether this plastic could be shaped into other plastic things, such as from coffee cup into plastic bottle?

Photo of Jessica Danyella

Thanks Linda, it's amazing seeing so many innovative ideas to solve issues around us. Shape memory polymers can be reshaped several times and with different temporary shapes. It can retain two or sometimes three shapes, and the transition between those is induced by temperature.
Anyway, thank you for your comment :)

Photo of Weiran Dai

Hi Jessi, this is revolutionary material. I am really interested in the cost to produce the materials, because usually plastic packing should be as cheap as possible.

Photo of Jessica Danyella

Thanks Weiran! Indeed it should be as cheap as possible, however, to produce plastic product with this particular material will be a bit more expensive than the usual one as it required further research.

Photo of Andre Raditya Tjoa

Great idea Jessi! However, I think you got it wrong with the reshaping of this material. This material hardens under a certain temperature, and softens over a certain temperature. If you want to change its shape from the permanent shape to the temporary shape and vice versa, you always have to reheat it, reshape it, then cool it down. I think it's not really feasible in hot environment because it softens the material and turns it back to the permanent shape. Still, you can use this material for an array of purposes that doesn't involve hot environment.

Photo of Jessica Danyella

Thanks Andre for the insight! This can be utilised as an alternative to plastic components (parts, containers, toys, etc.)

Photo of Franse Hendra

Watching this video makes me think multiple possibilities of this project, from simple packaging, into daily stuff that we used like storages. The temporary shape itself need further researches according to safety, lifetime and usage. Moreover, the material processes and main ingredients could be revealed and discussed further if we have to discuss environmental friendly products. Does any chemical that could be related to the stuff? That has to be considered. Well, it will relate to safety issues.
By the way, well done!

Photo of Jessica Danyella

Yes, I agree. The chemicals that go into shaping the polymer must also be considered as it should not be harmful to the manufacturer, end user and the environment. Safety is one critical component for social sustainability as well. Anyway, thank you Franse for your contribution in this research.

Photo of DANDAN PU

Good idea to save the plastic waste. I am interested in the degree of high temperature. As I know, people prefer to buy hot coffee rather than cold. Will that temperature influence the shape of the coffee lid? You know is embarrassed to drop the coffee if the lid is not cover tightly. And I also worry about is it that safe to use this material in the food industry?

Photo of Jessica Danyella

Thank a lot Dandan for your contribution! Thank for your concern to save the plastic waste!It's great to see there are people that still care about the global warming and care about the plastic waste :)

It won't be easily to change the shape as it will require a really high temperature (more that 37C) to harden the shape and (under 10C) to get the original shape back. However, I do agree that this still need a further research regarding the weather problems in colder countries.

In regards to the safety, it is safety although the production will cost a lot more expensive than the normal plastic. However, it will be dangerous when it get burned as other plastic material.

Photo of Yvette Velasco

I think this material can also be used for various things like plastic parts or even toys. Once it's discarded then it can be remade into something else staying true to the Circular Economy principle.

Photo of Jessica Danyella

I think so too! This can replace most of products that made from plastic.
I'm so surprised that you bring the Circular Economy principal, this would be another positive things that could be included in this project. Thanks a lot for visiting my page and leave me a comment Yvette!

Photo of Emi Situmorang

Hey this might be a good idea to be used in humid countries like South East Asia with high temperature. However, i do agree this might need some improvement to be used in a colder countries, where logically they would consume hot drinks much more compared to warmer countries. Can't wait to see how this could be implemented in real life! great work!

Photo of Jessica Danyella

Thanks a lot Emi! Indeed it must be need a further research and test to see whether it can actually work and will need a further research and experiment on the adjustment in both warmer and colder countries.
Thanks again!