University of Florida: Kelsea Potthast, Spencer Serrano, Joe Wilson, Michelle Clayton

In alignment with Hi-Cone’s sustainability vision, the Bio-Cone offers an engineered solution to the global plastic pollution crisis. The design of the Bio-Cone was guided by three goals: reduce the carbon footprint of the product, mitigate environmental impacts in marine and coastal ecosystems, and ensure sustainability throughout the lifetime of the product. Additionally, the versatility of the current Hi-Cone product informed design decisions and justifications. The Bio-Cone prototype ideally contributes to current efforts to reimagine resource usage and waste in our society.

A compostable plastic, derived from 100 percent vegetable starches, was chosen as the design material. The plastic is manufactured by Crown Poly and used to make vegetable bags for supermarkets. During design conversation, it was decided that the Bio-Cone should be suitable for high-speed application and compatible across multiple beverage brands. The starch-based polymer enables the redesigned ring carrier to achieve sustainability initiatives without sacrificing the industrial identity of the original product. The compostable plastic eliminates the need to recycle the Bio-Cone as its life cycle is ended after the material degrades.

The Bio-Cone is made of a bioplastic that is up to ASTM D5338 specifications. While the standard for determining the aerobic biodegradation of plastic under composting conditions is intended for industrial composting facilities, it is also applicable to home composting. Under the tests outlined in the specifications, it was determined that the vegetable-based plastic degrades in under 180 days at both levels. Additionally, it holds Vincotte OK Home Compost Certification.

Plastic ring carriers hold a negative image in the eyes of the environmentally conscious public. While this reputation may be somewhat deserved, ring carriers account for less than 0.1% of litter and 0.2 percent of animal entanglements. Improving public perception of multi- packing beverage products was contemplated during product development. Inspired by a recent movement in the paperboard industry, flower seeds will be enclosed within the Bio-Cone. The selected flower species produce seeds with small diameters that will be sealed between the plastic layers. After the product has been used and discarded into a compost system by the consumer, the polymer will begin to degrade and release a formulated mix of wildflower seeds. The resulting compost and flower seed mixture will be ready for delivery to gardens or fields. The intention is to shift association away from marine life entanglements and towards beautification of spaces. Hopefully, the flowers will attract wild life and establish a constructive relationship between the Bio-Cone and the natural world.

The Bio-Cone offers the same functionality of its predecessor while simultaneously achieving sustainability benchmarks and improving public image. It shall set a standard for future bioplastic and seed integration, to reduce the environmental impact of the packaging industry. Ultimately, the redesign was motivated by an effort to improve our society and care for the planet.