Sustainable Pots and Clamshells from Pulp Mold

Executive Summary:

Our project centers around obtaining a pulp moulding machine capable of creating pulp molds that can replace a variety of plastic products across campus. The machine would be housed in the Wollenberg Paper and Bioresource Science Laboratory in the basement of Bloedel Hall. Our main mold aims to replace the plastic pots currently used by the UW Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) in the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH). Our second mold is a clamshell tray designed to replace those currently in circulation at campus dining halls, however, as we have currently not been able to contact HFS to discuss the feasibility of this mold our main focus in this proposal will be the molded pots. Prior to receiving the machinery, we are aiming to create some prototype molds to test how the pots would perform structurally, however, these feasibility tests will not be conducted until we have access to campus again.

Student Involvement:

This project can be continuously student-led by undergraduates in BSE and supplemented by ESRM students involved in SER. BSE undergraduates, especially members of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), are more likely to be involved because running the machinery and producing these products is relevant to their industry. Learning about this technology is highly applicable to the industry, as plastic products are being replaced by molded pulp products at an increasing rate. These students would be in charge of production, quality control, and continued campus outreach. Production of these products could also be integrated into the BSE curriculum as a permanent part of the Paper and Bioresource Center. This would include an introduction to the machinery in 200-level BSE courses, which would prepare process engineering students to study sustainable production lines later in their undergraduate career. In the students’ senior year during BSE 436, they would learn how to analyze and improve upon the pulp products created from the machine. Lastly in the design-based BSE 480-481 courses, students could explore design economics and perform a full LCA on the machine’s process. In total, the incorporation of this process into the curriculum accounts for 40 students consistently working on production, analysis, and improvements.

Another possible avenue for student involvement is opening an opportunity for an ESRM student to take the data on the end-use of the biodegradable pots. This would provide valuable information for the production and improvement teams, and more data for the project’s progress.

Education & Outreach:

To increase the market size for the biodegradable pots after production, we plan to give away samples of our product to applicable campus groups. This involves contacting UW grounds, botanic gardens, and possible food vendors on campus to see if our products are viable replacements for their plastics.

In addition, there are several TAPPI and BSE-related events in which free samples and/or demonstrations could be incorporated. Specifically, TAPPI holds an annual Christmas fundraiser, during which our products could be sold to the public. Sustainability-focused booths and tables at campus events in Red-Square can feature our product.

In terms of education, the technical process detail can be integrated into the BSE curriculum across multiple classes, involving freshmen through senior students in sustainable production processes. ESRM/SER students, and those taking ESRM 412, could also be directly impacted in the education of biodegradable containers in particular. More details in the ‘Student Involvement’ section.

Environmental Impact:
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
  • Transportation
  • Waste
  • Water
Project Longevity:

This will be an ongoing project run by students, most likely in the BSE major. Kurt Haunreiter, the BSE lab technician and staff supervisor for the project will ensure the project will have a team of students working on the continuation of the project, as well as making sure the equipment stays in good shape. As for future maintenance, Kurt has done some research and determined that any of the parts that might wear out over time are easily obtainable in the US and that he would be able to purchase them if they are damaged. Future students will be in charge of running the machine and producing the pulp pots for continued production. Additionally, this project has the possibility to evolve and increase in scope. Once the machine is obtained, other molds can be obtained for $24,000 each. Therefore, if students on this project find a different product they can produce to increase sustainability on campus, they only need to obtain funding for the mold.

Environmental Problem:

The molding machine will serve as an example of sustainable manufacturing on a pilot scale.

Plastic pots are often used by agricultural and horticultural campus groups. Even though they can be reused, they are still washed out with excess water and bleach. The production of biodegradable pots hopes to decrease the carbon footprint, water usage, and waste associated with these groups. Additionally, the biodegradable pots could improve the soil for plant growth through nutrients in the pulp.

Environmental benefits of these biodegradable pots include:

  • Better aeration for roots
  • Decay of the pot allows roots to grow out into surrounding soil
  • Prevention of transplant shock
  • Compared to peat pots, digested fiber pots require less fertilizer, reducing the possibility of burnt roots
  • Use of brewer’s spent grain - a waste product of a local industry
  • Use of  on-campus plant waste, such as ivy, in the pulp mixture

The additional mold for either food or beverage containers would replace even conventional paper containers. The main difference is the use of non-wood materials in the mold such as wheat straw and brewer’s spent grain. In addition, the products would be made on-campus, reducing transportation.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

The way we can measure the impacts of our project is two-fold. As the saying goes “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and that is also in order of importance. A plastic pot, even if reused or recycled, still has carbon emissions associated with its production, and it will eventually end in a landfill or nature as litter. SER estimates that they go through 800 1-gallon plastic pots a year. A clear measure of our progress is how many plastic pots we can divert from being purchased. Every biodegradable pot that we produce, will fill the need of one plastic pot and thereby preempt the purchase and manufacture and transport of a plastic pot. Another important measure to take into consideration is the carbon emissions that go into the transportation of the plastic pots. Plastic pots, even made locally, are still damaging to the environment but that damage scales the farther away they are manufactured. Often these pots are sourced overseas and require a great deal of polluting transportation to make it to our campus. Once we know where the pots are sourced from we can perform a life-cycle calculation of the carbon emissions that go into one pot to produce it and transport it to Seattle and scale that up to our production of biodegradable pots. We are also working with SER to see if we can utilize some of the plant waste they gather from their clean-up efforts across campus and incorporate it into our pulp mixture.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $129,375
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
KZ-80 Pulping System Cabinet$5,0001$5,000
ZJW2-6650K Mould Machine$79,0001$79,000
Pressure Washer$1,0001$1,000
Forming Mold Set$24,0001-2$24,000-$48,000
High Pressure Water Pump$1,0001$1,000
Vacuum Pump$5,5001$5,500
GZ Auto Drain System$4,5001$4,500
Air Compressor$4,5001$4,500
Air Tank$5001$500
KH40B Forming/Vacuum System Cabinet$2,5001$2,500
Wiring MCC$5,0001$5,000
Previous CSF Funding-$70,0001-$70,000

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total:


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Final ProposalApril 15, 2020
Make Prototype MoldsHopefully we could get started on these in fall, assuming campus is openOctober 2020
Order the equipmentIf approved, the equipment would hopefully be ordered in MayMay 2020
Equipment TransportationThe equipment will take 5-7 months to arrive at campus, so we can expect an October/December arrival if the order is placed in MayOctober-December 2020
Testing PhaseOnce the equipment arrives/is installed we can begin making test molds to determine the best consistencyNovember 2020-January 2021
Make and distribute the potsOnce the equipment is ready and the correct consistency is determined, we will hopefully be ready for production by JanuaryJanuary 2021