“Hippie Plastic”: Sam’s Sustainable SSP

An example of a degrading bioplastic

Bacon makes everything better. At least, that’s what the popular saying tells us. For Sam ’14, though, bacon really does make something better: a sustainable bioplastic.

It was in his Environmental Chemistry class that Sam first learned that plastics could be made from common materials. After investigating different types of plastics, he found that even the most environmentally-friendly option still had issues, as the products needed to make the plastic use up a lot of land and a lot of resources.* There had to be something more sustainable, something that used fewer resources, he thought. Why not make it himself?

This question led to his Senior Signature Project: an attempt to make a more sustainable bio-plastic that doesn’t require the massive amounts of resources that other bioplastics do. To do this, Sam focused on using only food byproducts; in other words, naturally-occurring, valuable organic materials that don’t use any extra resources. After bouncing ideas off his mentor, Javad Tavakoli (they got connected by Bay alum and chemical engineering student Stephen Meier ’10), Sam set to work. Sam wrote up his procedure and drafted scientific papers for this process, and is now experimenting with different formulas that include vegetable glycerin and byproducts from bananas, shellfish and, yes, bacon.

An example of a bioplastic
An example of a bioplastic

“Making bioplastics is a learning experience,” says Sam. While he expects the practical application of his work include anything from packaging materials to hard plastic cases, “it all depends on the combination of ratios.” Planning to make four or five different sample plastics, Sam will soon be turning his conceptual project into a solid – and sustainable – one.

Get a first glimpse of Sam’s work at the Senior Signature Projects Exhibition Night. Join us from 5-7 p.m. on June 10 at Bay.

Next up for Sam: based on his findings, he and his mentor are considering patenting the plastic and publishing his scientific paper. In the fall, he’ll head to Grinnell College, where he plans to major in physics and will continue to play baseball.

*Petroleum-based Plastics Bioplastics
  • Versatile
  • Leave a large carbon footprint
  • Are not biodegradable
  • Rely heavily on petroleum, a non-renewable resources
  • Leave a smaller carbon footprint
  • Biodegradable
  • Use renewable biomass sources
  • Use large tracts of land and resources that could be better used for growing crops