Everyone knows that instant ramen is a way of life for college students. Not only is it about the cheapest food on the planet, but it cooks in mere minutes and requires no cooking skills. So it’s no surprise that Holly Grounds, a second-year student at Ravensbourne University, London, was a frequent consumer who was also concerned about the amount of plastic waste involved with this popular food.
Those late night study sessions had her rethinking the traditional packaging of the well-known dehydrated noodles. A passion for sustainable product design drove her to evaluate options for packaging that wouldn’t end up in the landfill for generations after she consumed a three-minute meal. “Convenience has become an inevitable part of everyday life but it often comes at a cost to the environment,” she said.
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Working with biobased materials, Grounds went through a trial-and-error process until a combination of potato starch, glycerin and water finally did the trick. Although she said it required multiple iterations, hindsight is 20/20 and now the process seems basic. “I was able to do all the testing and manufacture in my kitchen as the process is very simple.”
The result is a thin, clear wrap that dissolves in hot water, avoiding the need for any plastic. With the dissoluble outer packaging settled, Grounds then looked into how to avoid the smaller packets that typically hold seasonings and found the solution by pressing the herbs right into the biofilm. When cooked, the herb-infused wrapper becomes the seasoned broth.
“The ingredients are blended and heated until the mixture is at the right thickness,” Grounds explained. “At this point, I add the spices and flavourings before pouring it into a mould to set for 24 hours.”
In addition to providing a sustainable alternative to the original packaging, Grounds also reshaped the noodles. Formed into a circle, the nest of dried noodles fits into a bowl better than the traditional square. From there, simply pour boiling water over the noodles to cook, or prepare them in boiling water on the stove.
For hygiene purposes, the individual packets are stored in a wax-coated paper sleeve, which is recyclable and biodegradable. This is in contrast to some other products’ greenwashing claims that an item is compostable, only to find it needs to be taken to an industrial composting facility for that to be true.
Images via Holly Grounds