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Innovation Challenge:

Decreasing Waste with More Sustainable Packaging for a Leading Nutrition Intervention

This Challenge is


Decreasing Waste with More Sustainable Packaging for a Leading Nutrition Intervention
Decreasing Waste with More Sustainable Packaging for a Leading Nutrition Intervention

Two billion people worldwide suffer from “hidden hunger”—a deficiency of essential micronutrients that may exist even in diets with sufficient calories. Micronutrient powders (MNPs) are a critical tool in tackling global malnutrition among children under the age of 5 in low-resource settings and refugee camps. Approximately 200 million MNP packets are distributed each year by governments and humanitarian organizations, however, the foil sachets in which the powders are packaged cannot be recycled, re-purposed, burned, or composted, creating large amounts of collateral waste.  Sustainable packaging may help reduce the cost and waste associated with MNPs, and promote wider usage.

In 2012, Scientists Without Borders, and DSM’s humanitarian think tank, Sight and Life, partnered to host a $25,000 open innovation challenge seeking ideas for sustainable packaging for micronutrient powders. We also partnered with NineSigma, a leading private-sector open innovation network, to broaden the network of potential solvers. Participating solvers were required to satisfy stringent manufacturing and cost-per-unit requirements and protect the powder’s integrity under harsh conditions.

Three winners shared the $25,000 prize:

  • First Place (Receiving $12,500): Jose Tarquino of Valley Stream, NY, for “New Double Sack (DS) Economical Packaging for Essential Powdered Nutrition Supplements”
  • Second Place (Receiving $9,000): Ilya Mir of Sacramento, CA, and Ellery West of Crescent City, CA, for “Repurposing Existing Condiment Packaging”
  • Third Place (Receiving $3,500): Mehrdad Keshmiri of Port Moody, Canada, for “Use of Chitosan Setting Solution for Sustainable and Effective Packaging for Essential Powdered Nutrient Supplements to Combat Malnutrition”

Winning solutions combined proven packaging techniques with new, innovative concepts. Judges noted that the first-place solution—a hardy, biodegradable film inner sack with a paper outer sack—was viable for implementation, and that similar materials have been used successfully in other packaging schemes.  The second place solution proposed the reverse—a robust outer container protecting inner sachets.  The third place solution, which requires more testing, suggested the innovative use of a chitosan shell matter solution as a sustainable protective barrier.

Winner Jose Tarquino noted, "The challenge immediately grabbed my attention, as it posed both human and technical problems: helping disadvantaged people while improving an existing technology and impacting the environment. Given my experience in chemical engineering, biotechnology, food packaging and green materials, I knew I had the ability to develop a sound proposal."

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Decreasing Waste with More Sustainable Packaging for a Leading Nutrition Intervention


Decreasing Waste with More Sustainable Packaging for a Leading Nutrition Intervention
Sight and Life logo
NineSigma logo

First Place Proposal:  New Double Sack (DS) economical packaging for “Essential Powdered Nutrient Supplements” Proposed Idea or Technical Approach Packaging Improvement for Essential Powdered Nutrient Powders (MNPs) to Combat Malnutrition
First Place Winner:  Jose Tarquino
Award:  $12,500

Second Place Proposal:  RE: Seeking More Sustainable and Effective Packaging for Essential Powdered Nutrient Supplements
Second Place Winner: Ilya Mir and Ellery West
Award:  $9,000

Third Place Proposal:  Use of Chitosan setting solution for:
sustainable and effective packaging for essential powdered nutrient supplements to combat malnutrition.

Third Place Winner:  Mehrdad Keshmiri
Award:  $3,500 

First Place Proposal:  New Double Sack (DS) economical packaging for “Essential Powdered Nutrient Supplements” Proposed Idea or Technical Approach Packaging Improvement for Essential Powdered Nutrient Powders (MNPs) to Combat Malnutrition

First Place Winner:  Jose Tarquino

Award:  $12,500

To replace the current MNPs laminated sack (specification 12μ PET /8μ Al / 45μ LDPE) with a NEW biodegradable MNPs sack with a cost less than 1.5¢ (US cents/und).

Table 1: Micronutrients included in Powdered Nutrient Powders (MNPs)
Micronutrient Weight Further Description of Micronutrient

MicronutrientWeightFurther Description of Micronutrient
Vitamin A400 μgVitamin A acetate 250 CWS/A (contains 75 μg Retinol/mg product form)
Vitamin D35 μgVitamin D3 100 CWS/AM (contains 2.5 μg Vit D/mg product form)
Vitamin E5 mgTE Vitamin E acetate 50% CWS/S (contains 0.3355 mg TE/mg product form)
Vitamin B10.5 mgThiamine Mononitrate
Vitamin B20.5 mgVitamin B2 .5 phosphate Sodium
Vitamin B60.5 mgPyridoxine hydrochloride
Vitamin B120.9 μgVitamin B12 0.1% WS
Folic acid150 μgFolic acid
Niacinamide6 mgNiacinamide
Vitamin C30 mgAscorbic acid fine powder
Iron10 mgFerric Fumarate 60% coated
Zinc4.1 mgZinc Gluconate
Copper0.56 mgCopper gluconate
Selenium17 μgSodium Selenite
Iodine90 μg20 Potassium Iodide
SiO20.5 %Sipernate 22S
FillerAd Up to 1gMaltodextrin DE 11-14


  • Contents: One (1) gram of Vitamins & Minerals mix (Table 1). Since these contents are sensitive and potentially degradable by light, humidity and heat, the package must provide protection against light, vapor and oxygen.
  • Transportation: The packaged contents will be delivered around the globe using different modes of transportation including motor vehicles, airplanes, and sea vessels through a variety of roads and environments. Therefore, the packaging must be resistant enough to protect the product while they are being transported to their destinations (e.g., remote villages).
  • Regulations: The packaging must comply with FDA requirements.
  • Environmental protection (green): The packaging must be biodegradable or at least recyclable.
  • Cost: The package should be as cheap as possible with an upper limit of 1.5¢ (US cents).

The improved MNPs new packaging system consists of a Biodegradable food grade double sack (DS) made from two materials: Metallised NatureFlex™ Film NM (for the inner sack) and BL Kraft Paper (BLKP, for the outer sack). This double sack ranges in cost from 0.008¢ to 1.45¢ (US cents) and provides similar or better protection to the MNPs contents than the foil laminate currently in use.

1. The inner sack to protect the powder mix quality is made from Metallised NatureFlex™ Film NM and manufactured by Innovia Films-USA branch.
Innovia Films offers grades of NatureFlex™ that are metallised. These films have a small amount of aluminum vacuum deposited onto one surface to produce substrates with high luster and sparkle. The addition of the metal layer vastly improves the moisture, gas and UV light barrier, but does not compromise the compostability and renewability aspects of the NatureFlex™ products. The metallised NatureFlex™ films provide an extremely high barrier against moisture, vapor, aromas and gases allowing them to be used for the packaging of hygroscopic foods; the films also provide a barrier against UV/light transmissions. In addition, the films are also suitable for use in lamination and extrusion coating applications.2

Key attributes:2

  • Excellent light and UV barrier
  • Good moisture barrier
  • Excellent gas and aroma barrier
  • One side heat sealable
  • Anti-static and easy tearing
  • Cold seal compatible
  • Resistant to oils and greases
  • Excellent dead fold characteristics
  • Certified as compostable in key biodegradation environments (including anaerobic digestion,
  • industrial and home composting)
  • Based on renewable resources

Tarquino Table 2

† Metal Optical Density (MOD): This measure of the optical density of metallized films provides an indication of the metallization coverage (both thickness & uniformity). Light is passed through the metallized layer and the MOD is the amount of transmitted light. As the thickness of the metal layer increases, the MOD decreases. A film with an optical density of 2.0 will result in 1% transmitted light, while increasing the OD to 3.0 reduces the light transmission to 0.1%. Metallized NatureFlex™ has an OD of 2.5, such that 0.6% (<1%) of incident light is transmitted.

2. The outer sack to supply handle protection during transportation is made from BL Kraft Paper (BLKP, food grade) and manufactured by International Paper Co. USA.
International Paper's bleached packaging papers are designed to deliver outstanding converting and packaging performance and exceptional print quality.
Key attributes:3

  • Consistent quality
  • Excellent converting behavior
  • Superior sizing and strength
  • Outstanding print quality
  • FDA food contact compliant
  • SFI® Chain-of-Custody (CoC) certified

Table 3: BL Kraft Paper (food grade) – International Paper3

Property Units Typical Values

Basis Wt

fb/3000 ft2 gsm

30 48.8

33 53.7

40 65.1

50 81.4


0.001 in microns

2.8 71

3.0 76

3.8 97

4.6 117













Smoothness, FS






Smoothness WS






Tear, MD

gf mN

51 500

55 539

70 686

86 843

Tear, CD

gf mN

60 588

65 637

80 785

96 941

Tensile, MD

lbf/in kN/m

18 3.2

19 3.3

25 4.3

34 6

Tensile, CD

lbf/in kN/m

13 2.3

13 2.3

18 3.1

22 3.8

Stretch, MD






Stretch, CD







ft-lbf/ft2 J/m2

2.4 35

2.7 40

3 44

8.2 120


ft-lbf/ft2 J/m2

4.1 60

4.5 65

5.3 77

9.2 135

Gurley Porosity






3. Two-Step packaging process.
Step 1: packing the MNPs in a Metallised NatureFlex™ Film NM sack formed and seal in powder filling machine.
Step 2: the inner film sack is inserted in a BLKP bag and sealed.
Note: An alternative process is to use a single laminate sack (made of Metallised NatureFlex™ Film NM and BLKP using a starch adhesive) and then use this single laminate sack to pack and seal the MNPs in a powder filling machine. This alternative process is more expensive but still meets the protective requirements and is under 1.45¢.

4. Comparative Data of the Current Foil Laminate packaging and the Proposed DS Metallised
NatureFlex NM / BLKP.

Table 4: Materials and Technical Standards Required for Meeting the Five Design Elements

Tarquino Table 4

The proposed double sack packaging for the MNPs meets the five elements considered during the packaging design process. The proposed double sack packaging improves the overall output of the product while remaining a more sustainable and effective method for packaging essential MNPs used to combat malnutrition than the laminate currently in use.

The next step could be improving the entire product by microencapsulating the MNPs’ contents which would:

  • enhance the cross-contamination barriers, protecting the MNPs’ contents against processes and other
  • environmental insults,
  • improve the feeding / administration process for the MNPs (during food mixing and servings),
  • improve the MNPs’ absorption and digestion within the gastrointestinal tract (pharmacokinetics) and
  • lower the overall cost.


If interested, Tarpri Enterprises Corp. could develop and offer a microencapsulated MNPs contents alternative. You may contact them at:
Tarpri Enterprises Corp.
411 NW 10 St., Miami, FL 33168
Phone: (305) 454-1673

Second Place Proposal:  RE: Seeking More Sustainable and Effective Packaging for Essential Powdered Nutrient Supplements

Second Place Winner:  Ilya Mir and Ellery West

Award:  $9,000

I propose an inexpensive to produce, single use packet, assembled with conventional equipment that would resemble typical condiment packages, but with medications inside. Conventional single use pill packages of this type are common in convenience stores and are popular due to low cost and convenience. The idea that would make this package sustainable and compostable is that it would be constructed with PHA compostable film that has been metalized on one side that is then bonded/laminated to paper. This package will offer excellent product protection and oxygen resistance with at least 3+ years shelf life and hold up to field temperatures. When the package is discarded, the paper will decompose quite rapidly in the presence of water and the compostable PHA will eventually break down completely even in arid environments. The metallization is typically 4 micron thick gas disposition aluminum which when oxidized is similar to elements found in the Earth’s crust.

The main challenge to this project will be commitment and start-up financing. All the materials and processes are well known, however organizing the PHA supplier and arranging for metalizing then laminating will require organizational ability and follow through. The metalized PHA laminated paper will need to be printed and dimensioned – most likely on specifically sized rolls as specified by the product filler. The strength of this idea is that it is low risk, low cost if produced at reasonable scale, 100% probability of success and meets or exceeds all compostability standards.

Third Place Proposal:  Use of Chitosan setting solution for: sustainable and effective packaging for essential powdered nutrient supplements to combat malnutrition.

Third Place Winner:  Mehrdad Keshmiri

Award:  $3,500

This idea is based on an existing known process, which the inventor had applied previously to develop a new process of producing monosize spherical media for the materials fabrication; used in pharmaceutical industries, and environmental technologies. The novelty is the method under which the functional material can be fabricated not only in the form of spheres but fibres, sheets, and membranes.

The fabricated biodegradable fibres and sheets can be used for the production of the packaging material for the proposed application. This could be considered as a separate research proposal, to be defined for further investigation.  However, by this current proposal, an easier facile approach; the use of Chitosan setting solutions is suggested to strengthen the regular existing paper-based packages. This will result in an enhanced protection against moisture and other contaminant agents, which may affect the quality of the nutrients inside the package.

In brief, the success of the suggested environmentally responsible idea will be based on the combination of two major factors:

  • Paper-based packaging materials are safe, natural, biodegradable, light, and cheap. The major problem with extensively use of them as a packaging media for nutrient materials is their low resistance to moisture and micro-organism penetrating from outside.
  • 2- Application of a safe, biocompatible material which is resistant to water diffusion. This secondary material can be embedded in between the paper fibrous structure to prevent the gradual contact of the materials inside the package with contaminants, etc.

Chitosan setting solution
Chitosan is a biopolymer derived by the alkaline deacetylation of chitin, a polyglucosamide, which is a component of the crustaceans’ shells, insects’ exoskeltons, etc. Chitosan, as a linear polysaccharide, is soluble in dilute acids, and behaves as a worm-like chain. Because of its stability, chemical properties, and biocompatibility, chitosan has been used in many current and potential applications including pharmacological, biomedical, and waste treatment products.
Regardless of the extensive applications of this material, chitosan acidic solution is suggested for this invention basically because of its controlled viscosity, needed for an effective penetration in between the paper fibrous texture, followed by its fast hardening when in contact with basic solutions (e.g. NH4OH).

Chitosan-paper composite
Immersion of paper products in chitosan solution, especially under vacuum condition will force the solution to diffuse in between the fibers and occupy the pores. The saturated paper can then be treated in a weak basic atmosphere, or a second solution bath to induce the gelation and hardening of the Chitosan compound. This would partially or completely block the paper micropores. The drying place may be completed under ambient condition with no need for a basic condition, depending on the paper specification itself. A controlled mixture of chitosan solution, in terms of its viscosity, and pH to be prepared to wet the paper products. Vacuum condition will accelerate the rate of the process. The viscous acidic solution of chitosan itself forms a three-dimensional structure when exposed to basic solutions. However, it is extremely soft and could not preserve its shape while immersed in water. Also, the rate of drying shrinkage for the resulting material is high enough to practically turn the product into a fine powder after drying.

In contrast, the paper fibres would act as a structural reinforcement, which keeps the solidified
chitosan agent in place.
The setting of the chitosan solution could be explained by:

  • Fast gelation of chitosan, because of the cross-linking of A-groups (N-acetyl-D-glucosamine residues), in basic solutions.
  • Fast precipitation of chitosan by the extreme change in pH from highly acidic (~pH 1) to highly basic (~pH 12).
  • Combination of the two above mechanisms.

The resulting fibrous composite still posses the flexibility of regular paper products, providing a closed microstructure, which doesn’t let the passage of moisture. The filler media is a pure biocompatible material which would naturally block the penetration, as characteristically it is not water-soluble. Since both components are naturally derived, the final product is environmentally responsible, and can be disposed anywhere.

Keshmiri Figure 1

Figure 1. Preparation process of paper products with the use of chitosan, as the blocking agent.