Disposable containers made from fossil fuels in the form of plastic have brought great convenience to our lives. They are easily manufacturable at scale and offer robust mechanical properties, versatility, low cost, and resistance to corrosion. Plastic products have been widely used in food and consumer packaging, electronics, construction, and many other industries. 16 billion disposable coffee cups alone are used every year, producing an estimated eight million tons of plastic waste. It takes up to 450 years for some plastics to degrade, especially single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, lunch boxes and disposable cups, accounting for 40 percent of the total plastic production and ‘white pollution’.

Landfills, incinerators, and recycling are the primary approach to disposing of this waste, however, plastics do not degrade well naturally. They release toxic substances produced such as fluorine, chlorine and carbides when incinerated, and can deplete the ozone layer and harm human health. Recycling has been the best solution to reduce the ‘white pollution’ but complex and high-cost treatments are generally involved, significantly hindering its development. About 14% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced last year were recycled and only 2% of the recycled plastics have been recycled into the same or similar-quality applications.

Tremendous efforts have been made to develop biodegradable materials to substitute conventional petroleum-derived plastics. Among the advancements, molded pulp products made from wood fibers and recycled papers have been sought after, however, there are concerns of safety for food packaging as well as wet strength. Most molded pulps are made from secondary fiber like newspapers and used books, and secondary fiber generally contains residual inks and other chemicals that remain during the pulping process.

This invention addresses the challenges of a renewable and biodegradable alternative of the plastic-based food containers that are inherently food-safe and mechanically strong, clean, green, and sustainable.

Technology Overview

In this work, Northeastern University Researchers have developed a renewable and biodegradable material comprised of natural fibers from lignocellulosic biomass as feedstock for producing pulps to manufacture green tableware. The development involves a fiber hybridization strategy that blends long bamboo fibers with short sugarcane bagasse fibers, forming a highly interwound composite. The manufacturing process includes mixing, pressing and drying the fibers into molds to achieve the desired shape. Bagasse, a by-product of the cane sugar industry, is an abundantly available material that can be sourced inexpensively.

The result is a quality molded pulp with food safety, superior mechanical strength, and water and oil stability as an environmentally friendly, fully-biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable tableware to replace the traditional plastics used for food packaging.


  • Eco-friendly and biodegradable alternative to many plastic or paper containers
  • Biodegrades under natural conditions within 60 days
  • Pulp molding process reduces CO2 emissions
  • Reduces landfill use; reduces processes and steps for disposal


  • Food service containers and utensils
  • Compostable for environments that preclude waste (space exploration, ships, etc.)
  • Medical wrappings (single use/ single cycle waste)
  • Any industry that needs to reduce waste from large packaging/protection layers including electronics manufacturing


  • Development partner
  • Commercial partner
  • Licensing
Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Mark Saulich
Associate Director of Commercialization
Northeastern University
Hongli (Julie) Zhu