Students explore the purpose of food packaging, the science of food spoilage, and investigate food packaging design. They design an experiment to select the most appropriate packaging material for a product, considering design for a circular economy. They construct a prototype and pitch their design.
Years 9 and 10
understand the physical and chemical changes food can undergo, and how packaging protects food
evaluate the environmental impact of packaging materials relative to their function and cost
design and test a packaging prototype for the circular economy.
Watch Sir David Attenborough’s plastic message and read an article from ABC Science about the rate of plastic pollution.
Explain to students that a third of household waste is typically food packaging. In Rethinking plastic packaging, Unilever report that only 14 per cent of plastic packaging used globally is recycled, while 40 per cent ends up in landfill, and 30 per cent ends up in fragile ecosystems.
Most of the world's population lives in cities, where there are few options for independently growing food. Consequently, 3.5 billion people in cities buy their products away from home – and these products usually come packaged.
Explain that as a class, we’re going to investigate more sustainable packaging solutions.
Research has shown that girls are interested in careers in which they can ‘do good’. This topic shines a spotlight on a significant global problem and shows how a range of STEM practitioners are seeking solutions.
Introduce students to the functions of food packaging:
to keep the food clean
to protect the food from unwanted physical and chemical changes (such as oxidation and destruction from insects) and to facilitate desired physical changes (such as heating and cooling)
to identify the product and provide sales appeal
to be inexpensive and economical, both in material and transportation.
Students explore why there are different designs for packaging. For example, the teacher can model comparing a plastic drink bottle to a bag of flour.
In small groups, students compare packaging for different products.
For each package, they should:
explain how the package design works
identify the chemical and physical changes the packaging form and material might prevent or facilitate.
Students can also use online catalogues to investigate whether there are other packaging options for that product.
At home, students examine their recycling and other waste and suggest products that would most benefit from redesigned packaging. The class collates these findings to develop a short list of products to use as the basis for the engineering challenge.
The opportunity to physically manipulate and investigate different types of packaging in a collaborative environment encourages girls to engage with the topic.
Introduce students to the concept of the circular economy: that we should keep resources in use for as long as possible, as opposed to a traditional economy of make, use, dispose. Watch the clip Re-thinking progress: The circular economy from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation.
Explore local achievements: Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla, a materials scientist, engineer and innovator from UNSW has developed the world’s first micro-factory. To find out more, watch the clip Micro-factories.
Now have students read an article from National Geographic and complete a jigsaw activity: students research one of the innovative packaging solutions in the article then share their findings with a small group of students. (Note that the links are embedded in the article.)
Many girls don’t see STEM careers as creative or collaborative. The National Geographic article mentions Tomorrow Machine, a Swedish design studio specialising in package, product and food concepts. Tomorrow Machine is led by two women, Hanna Billqvist and Anna Glansén, and their website provides examples of beautiful, creative food packaging designs.Check out Tomorrow Machine here
Using the list of products requiring a new packaging approach they compiled earlier, students work in groups to select a product and design a new approach to its packaging that will reduce environmental impact.
Students need to consider:
material (environmental impact vs food protection)
form (ease of shipping and storage vs customer appeal).
As part of understanding food protection requirements, students should research potential environmentally friendly materials, then design an experiment to test different materials with their product. They can review an experiment from Science Buddies and modify it to test their product.
Students build a prototype of their design, showing how it is constructed, and how it can be disposed of.
Students pitch their design to a panel of community members, including supporting evidence for their material choice and form design.
Girls may need additional support in the prototype-building phase of the project, as some may not have had extensive experience in manipulating materials. Ensure that girls are not relegated to non-technical roles in the group. Consider collaborating with a Design and Technologies teacher and providing an extra session for students to learn how to use workshop tools and manipulate materials. Promote a growth mindset by offering specific praising for effort, strategies and behaviours.