In Ireland, three teens have developed an alternative to packing peanuts made from sunflower stem pith. Eoin Cottrell (16), Benjamin Velon (16), and Jamie O’Callaghan (15), all students at Douglas Community Schools in county Cork, won the Young Scientists Biological & Ecological for their project.
The material can replace foam packing peanuts normally made from polystyrene and Styrofoam. The three found that when dried and cut, the sunflower plant core, also known as pith, performs similarly to non-biodegradable incumbents.
“Our science teacher, Mr O’Mahony, came in with sunflower stems that he got from his back garden and we were looking at them in science class,” Cottrell tells Eco Live. “We realized that the inside of the stems reminded us a lot of the kind of foam packaging you find in parcels from places like Amazon, so we decided to do some tests on it. We think it’s a great idea because after you get a package you can just put it in your compost bin, and it will break down over time.”
Sunflowers are widely grown for sunflower oil, but the stems are considered a waste byproduct.
“Processing it is a challenge at the moment because by hand it’s very slow and the shapes are very irregular but if it was going to be a business, we’d be able to make custom machinery that would be able to process it quickly,” O’Callaghan adds.