During my PhD, I developed a bioplastic made of wood, agriculture and marine resources. This bioplastic is in the form of thin sheets and would be suitable as food packaging.

 
Scott Renneckar
Ottawa
Canada
 
Research Description

During my PhD, I developed a bioplastic made of wood, agriculture and marine resources. This bioplastic is in the form of thin sheets and would be suitable as food packaging. The objectives of my research are three-fold: design a bread bag of this bioplastic; measure its durability and elasticity; and demonstrate that it is industrially compostable.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

The support by the Public Scholars Initiative allows me to expand my research outside the lab and into society. It is an opportunity to help community partners by tailoring my research to their needs.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

The Initiative energizes students to engage with the public. It gives PhD students the opportunity to broaden their knowledge beyond what is required by the PhD program.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

I see my PhD as a license to practice science. The technical and critical thinking skills I gain in the lab are a starting point for my career. Experience in the private sector will develop my professional identity even further.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

With a ban on plastic bags on the horizon, many businesses are struggling to make an informed decision about alternate single-use packaging. I connected with Terra Breads bakery to explore using transparent bioplastic bags to package their loaves. We compared the quality of bread stored in bioplastic and conventional packaging.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

The global plastic crisis is a topic that most encounter in their everyday lives. I hope that my PhD can mitigate this problem by providing a readily-available bio-based alternative to single-use plastic packaging. Using biodegradable plastic instead of conventional plastic would divert innumerable plastic bags each day from the landfill and oceans.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

Before coming to UBC I worked on a soybean farm. During harvest, the beans are collected while the rest of the plant (pods, stems and leaves) are discarded. I started to wonder how this residual biomass could be used. My mentor suggested graduate school. Two phone calls later, I was on my way to Vancouver to investigate ways to convert agroforestry wastes into valuable commodities.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

Our campus is packed with high-impact researchers who are developing not only bio-based materials but also chemicals and energy from biomass. The BioProducts Global Research Excellence Institute at UBC integrates these research labs and fosters collaboration between them.

 

The Public Scholars Initiative energizes students to engage with the public.