Sustainable Pots and Clamshells from Pulp Mold

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $130,000

Letter of Intent:

February 2020


In our initial request, we mentioned that while University of Washington agriculture groups are among the greenest operations on campus, currently all horticulture and agriculture groups are using plastic pots for their needs. With the technology, expertise, and resources available in the UW Wollenberg Paper and Bioresource Science Laboratory, there are opportunities for producing biodegradable pots on campus to replace the thousands of disposable plastic pots.

In 2017, our student team was awarded $70,000. Shortly thereafter, the manufacturer of the proposed pilot equipment confessed that they could not actually produce our design. A 4-month search commenced and a new manufacturer was found. They confirmed that the original design exceeded the capability of the raw materials with respect to the limits we placed on total fiber content. Working with the Center for Urban Horticulture, a new, slightly smaller, pot was designed, and progress began again. The new manufacturer also pointed out the original technology would not have met our criteria either. They worked with us to design a pilot machine that would deliver our desired product, but it came at a significantly higher cost - $125,000. Current tariff requirements have also raised the cost. The PI for the lab was able to secure a commitment from an organization in New York to cover the gap in funding. After a year and half and many teleconferences, it became clear that our urgency wasn’t shared.  

Additionally, our team sees an opportunity to expand our project’s impact to sustainability on campus with a second mold for a second sustainable product made from the same pilot machine. For instance, molded trays used by food services across campus produced from 100% wood fibers can be replaced by a new mold that uses some non-wood fibers. We request that you consider additional funding to match the cost gap of the pilot machine while also adding value by adding a new sustainable mold.

Environmental Impact Expansion

Currently, molded clam-shell trays used by food services on campus to serve food are produced from wood fibers. Although they are produced from recycled fiber, they are still based on wood pulp. As with the biodegradable pots, we could replace some of the wood pulp in our clamshell mold with wheat straw, enhancing the sustainable footprint.  A potential collaboration with the University of Florida may also present additional non-wood opportunities in the form of kenaf fibers.

Additionally, after meeting with The UW Society for Ecological Restoration (UW-SER), they proposed another way to make the project more sustainable. They are currently in the process of removing ivy and blackberry growth across campus, which are both invasive species. The UW-SER inquired as to whether we could use these plants as material in our molds. This is a topic of research our team is dedicated to delve further into.

Student Leadership and Involvement

This project is overseen by a core of four Bioresource Science and Engineering sophomores, juniors and seniors as well as students from UW-SER, each specializing in different areas. With support from the UW Wollenberg Paper and Bioresource Lab, each member of the team has a specialty in analytics, chemical composition of the pots, machinery, molding technologies, or black liquor fertilizer implementation, soil and plant community ecology.

As stated in our initial project, this grant covers a new molding system which can provide UW students a chance to apply classroom concepts in the lab, experiencing a production line from starting bio materials to end-product. This machinery can specifically be used for Bioresource Science and Engineering curriculum, providing students with hands-on experience with pilot-scale industry machinery to produce a sustainable finished product.

Education, Outreach, & Behavior Change

This interdisciplinary project currently involves a close partnership across majors and campus groups. Currently, our closest partnership is with UW SER. By servicing UW SER alone, we will replace the need for approximately 500 seedling containers per year. Once this product can be produced to scale, we can provide our biodegradable pots to any interested group on campus. Expanding our capability with a second mold to initially support one of the foodservice cafeterias on campus would displace approximately 200 trays per day.

Feasibility, Accountability, & Sustainability

This team of students is competent in their respective specialties, has experience in the Paper and Bioresource Labs and the Center for Urban Horticulture. This team will be overseeing the full implementation of the project throughout,  with continuity of the team ensured by bringing representatives from all classes.


After submitting this letter of intent, our team will dive further into researching the feasibility for each mold. Within the next couple weeks we will contact HFS to find out how much their current clamshells cost, and to discuss the possibility of replacing them with our molded clamshells. Additionally, we will begin researching how to implement the woody mass from ivy/blackberry bushes into the molds, so that the project can have further impact on campus sustainability. All of this research will be culminated into a presentation that will take place in April. If our proposal is accepted, we will then order the mechanical equipment from the contractor, which will have a variable arrival date. After the equipment is installed, tests will begin to verify our molds are effective. Beyond that, the project will continue by collecting  plant mass and producing/distributing the molds to the proper entities.

Budget Estimate

  • KZ-80 Pulping System Cabinet: $2,500
  • ZJW2-6650K Mould Machine: $79,000
  • Pressure Washer: $1,000
  • Forming Mold Set  1 - Square pot: $24,000
  • Forming Mold Set 2 - Food Tray: $24,000


  • High pressure water pump: $1,000
  • Vacuum Pump: $5,500
  • GZ Auto drain system: $4,500
  • Air compressor: $4,500
  • Air Tank: $500


  • KZ-80 Pulping System Cabinet: $2,500
  • KH40B Forming/vacuum system cabinet: $2,500


  • Wiring MCC: $5,000


  • Freight To Jobsite: $5,000
  • Tariff (25%): $37,875


Previous Project Funding: $70,000

Project Total: $129,375

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Ryan Setera