Optimize Your Packaging

When pasta is sold in plastic bags or boxes, 60% of its packaging space is reserved for air. This wasted space means more packaging waste ends up in US landfills each year. Furniture is flat-packed to conserve space and material, and this reduces the overall carbon footprint produced during the transportation of goods. Could the same be done for pasta? One team of researchers set out to find out, and created some remarkable results.

Inspired by the flat-pack model, researchers in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and Syracuse University proposed the design concept of morphing food that can be flat-packed to reduce packing space during transportation and storage. They developed a groove-based shape morphing technique that can make many types of materials- including edible ones like authentic Italian pasta made of semolina flour and water- transform into 3D shapes when cooked. The grooves work as a preset for each piece of pasta to shape into when cooked, curling where there are ridges and remaining flat where the noodle surface is smooth.

This parametric surface grooving works on an array of differently shaped pasta. Not only does the shape of food directly impact sustainability in regards to packaging, but the length of cooking time also impacts the carbon footprint. As the team explains on their website, “In Italy, 0.7% to 1% of greenhouse gas emissions is due to cooking pasta, and these emissions could be reduced by half if the shape and cooking processes could be optimized. Flat pasta with surface texture has a larger surface area to volume ratio and can be cooked faster than the ones with an inner cavity (e.g., macaroni).”

This out-of-the-box style of thinking is really exciting to me. When I’m not at work, I love to be on stage, and theatre artists pull ideas from other art all the time. I love to see what happens when worlds collide and one group gets inspired by another in a completely different field. Innovation and collaboration go hand in hand, and FPC hopes to see more advancements built like this in the future.

Read more about their project at their website: https://www.morphingmatter.cs.cmu.edu/projects/morphing-pasta-and-beyond