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Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Spring 92 > Article

UGA Forestry Professor Finds Alternative to Foam Peanuts in Packaging
by Gordon R. Johnston

Jim Rice's wood curls could send peanuts and popcorn packing.

Not as a snack, perhaps. But Rice believes they make a better packaging material than the foam peanuts or pesticide-laced popcorn often used to cushion items shipped in boxes.

"Unlike foam peanuts, wood curls are perfectly biodegradable and people don't have to throw them away. They can be used as mulch around plants or as pet litter," said Rice, a professor in The University of Georgia School of Forest Resources.

In his research, Rice has invented a machine that makes wood shavings "that are very light, resilient and recyclable and perfect for packing," said Dr. Janice Kimpel, associate director for technology transfer for The University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc. who helped Rice apply for a patent on the machine.

Rice came up with the idea of using tightly curled wood shavings as packing material when he was asked to help develop a machine for producing the small wood curls used in fragranced potpourri.

Rice estimated that his machine could manufacture resilient curls from scrap wood and compete with foam manufacturers who charge about 50 cents per cubic foot for foam peanuts.

The curls can weigh as much as two-thirds more per cubic foot than the foam peanuts, but Rice said the difference would effect shipping costs very little.

Kimple described the development as a new opportunity for companies that have sought more environmentally sound methods of packaging.

In the past several years, some companies have experimented with new, biodegradable packing materials, especially popcorn, Kimpel said.

"Then bugs began to show up in the popcorn," she said. "Companies sprayed it with pesticide, but that presented a threat because people ate the popcorn. With wood curls, you have a packing material that is perfectly safe for people and the environment."

Gordon Johnston, a former reporter with the Rome News-Tribune, is a doctoral student in English at the University of Georgia.

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