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Photo: Ted Karlsson
Esa Vuorinen, Associate professor of materials engineering at Luleå University of Technology. Photo: Ted Karlsson View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Sustainable packaging with open web course

Published: 4 July 2016

Luleå University of Technology is involved in an Erasmus+ project to develop an Internet-based course that will be about minimizing the environmental impact of packaging in the food sector.

– In the course all levels, from the field to the dining table are reviewed and participants will learn how to optimize the packaging choice by considering the whole picture, says Esa Vuorinen, Associate professor of Materials Engineering at Luleå University of Technology.

The research institute PCTAD in Spain is the coordinator of the project in which also Luleå University of Technology, University of Zaragoza and a consulting company from Cyprus participates. The role of Luleå University of Technology is mainly about material selection, to provide tools for choosing the right material based on demand specifications.

Attracted by the challenge

– Since the 90s we have had a course in Materials Selection and Ecodesign, and that's why we were asked to participate. There were two exciting challenges with the project, to create a course for professionals in the field and also to design an open online course, available to all and completely free, says Esa Vuorinen.

The project runs for two years and the target audience for the course are professionals in the field. Those who take the course will learn how to minimize the environmental impact of packaging in production, design and use. Another objective is to create a so-called MOOC* course which is open to anyone. It would be the first MOOC course at Luleå University of Technology.

– We have discussed having smaller cases for each section and a larger one in the end. It could for example be to choose material for a product that is manufactured in Turkey and consumed in Sweden. To make decisions about everything from food quality, packaging during transportation, packaging for storage and packaging when sold.

Interesting with bio-based materials

To make more environmentally friendly packaging might be more expensive compared to materials that have a slightly greater environmental impact. Also materials with apparently inferior properties might still be the best choice in the long run. These are examples of questions that the course will take into account.

– Bio-based materials are the most interesting. For example, wood and paper. But they need not always be the best solutions. Plastics can perhaps be reused numerous times. Also bioplastics, based on different organic materials are now aksi being used. The price is also an important factor. When choosing materials different properties and their meanings to each other must be analyzed. Price may for example be weighed against image. Sometimes the image is more valuable than the price and then can the product cost more. The package price in relation to the total product price is often very small, which may open up for a more environmentally friendly packaging.

* = MOOC Massive Open Online Courses (free online courses)