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New Building Materials May Reduce Waste at Portland Grocers
New Building Materials May Reduce Waste at Portland Grocers


Graduate and undergraduate students Trevor Stevens, Reid Weber and Kevin Chavez from the School of Architecture and Margarette Leite, Assistant Professor of Architecture believe building materials made from waxed cardboard could provide Portland grocers with an ecofriendly solution to a costly waste problem.

Come November, waxed cardboard, a nearly ubiquitous material in commercial food service and transportation, will no longer be included in the list of materials acceptable for commercial compost collection. This means grocers, restaurants, and other foodservice organizations that receive produce and other food materials in corrugated waxed cardboard boxes will now have to pay to haul these materials to the landfill.

According to Teak Wall, Sustainability Program Manager for New Seasons Markets, waxed cardboard boxes represent roughly 80 percent of the organization’s compostable materials. “We estimated New Seasons composts around 587 tons of this material per year,” said Wall, “that’s over 540,000 boxes.”

For stores like New Seasons, the cost of disposing of these boxes will be high both in terms of profit margins and environmental impact. In order to explore possible solutions to this impending problem, Wall contacted PSU’s Community Environmental Services (CES) unit. CES got in touch with Leite whose Advanced Architectural Materials (Arch 462/562) students took on the problem.

One way to avoid the economic and environmental costs of the change in composting regulations, suggested Leite and her fellow Clean Tech Challenge team members, is to use waxed cardboard headed for the landfill as a building material. Students in Leite’s Arch 462/562 class came up with several potential applications: shredded cardboard for insulation, compressed bales for constructing walls, and as wall covering. Encouraged by their initial work and the potential benefits for the community and environment, the team brought their idea to the Clean Tech Challenge.

“There are manufacturers out there using materials like recycled paper as insulation,” Leite said, “but no one has used waxed cardboard. So we’re interested in looking into it, seeing if there are any challenges to using it as a building material and if it’s comparable to products like conventional and cellulose insulations.”

With funding provided to Clean Tech Challenge semifinalists, the team is conducting initial tests on waxed cardboard boxes to see if there is potential for use as a green building material.

“One of the statistics we got from New Seasons,” said team member Reid Weber, “is that 1.5 million tons of this stuff ends up in landfills across the nation every year. If waxed cardboard can be made into a green building material, that’s a lot of waste we can turn into something useful.”

“I think we’re exploring potential uses for this product that people maybe hadn’t thought much about,” said Leite. “At the same time, we’re solving a problem grocers in Portland and throughout the metro region will be facing in just a few months’ time. I’m sure if it proves to be as good as other materials, there will certainly be a market for it.”

Authored by Shaun K McGillis
Posted September 9, 2014