Professor Develops Biodegradable Food Wrap from Soybeans

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. sturdy / ˈstɜr di / (adj) – strong

    This furniture is made from oak, so it’s very sturdy.

  2. in circulation / ɪn ˌsɜr kyəˈleɪ ʃən / (idiom) – available for the public’s use

    This smartphone model is no longer in circulation, so you can’t find it in stores anymore.

  3. microbe / ˈmaɪ kroʊb / (n) – a very small organism that can be seen only with the use of a microscope

    We need to disinfect the utensils to make sure that there are no more disease-causing microbes on them.

  4. virtually / ˈvɜr tʃu ə li / (adv) – almost completely

    I spent a lot of money, so I’m now virtually penniless.

  5. contend / kənˈtɛnd / (v) – to compete

    Many students are studying hard because they are contending with each other for the scholarship.


Read the text below.

A Singaporean professor developed an eco-friendly food wrap from soybeans that can replace plastic packaging.

William Chen from Nanyang Technological University developed the food wrap from cellulose, which is a substance that helps plants remain sturdy. Although cellulose-based wraps have been in circulation for some time, most are produced from wood or corn. In contrast, Chen’s wrap is made from the waste from soybean products.

When making soy-based products like bean curd and soy milk, manufacturers squeeze out soybean juice and throw away the remaining pulp. However, Chen figured that he can use the soy residue instead and ferment it to produce cellulose.

The soy cellulose wrap attempts to solve two problems. It tries to cut down the amount of plastic produced for food wrapping while also reducing the amount of plastic waste thrown in landfills. Microbes can digest the wrap easily, so it degrades entirely in less than a month.

Chen’s wrap also has an economic advantage over other eco-friendly alternatives. Wraps made from wood or corn are expensive to make because the materials needed for them need to be grown in farms. On the other hand, the soy wrap’s raw materials can be obtained for free, so the wrap’s production is expected to be cheaper. Chen said that currently, producing the wrap in the lab costs virtually nothing.

The wrap is still in the initial stages of being mass-produced. Chen’s team has partnered with soy-based drink producer, F&N, which will supply them with unlimited soy residue. F&N is also studying whether the food wrap could contend with common wrapping products in the market.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think this wrap will be an effective solution to the problem of plastic waste? Why or why not?
• What are some challenges that Chen’s team may face in mass-producing the wrap (e.g. reliable supply of raw materials)? Discuss.

Discussion B

• What qualities should eco-friendly alternative products have so that they can be effective in helping the environment (e.g. biodegradable, cheap)? Discuss.
• Aside from food wrapping, what common product do you think needs more eco-friendly alternatives (e.g. clothes)? Discuss.