Fresh Press, an Agri-Fiber Paper Research Lab on Campus, Uses Creativity to Promote Sustainability
Sustainable living is defined as meeting the needs of today while ensuring that future generations can also thrive. This is a concept well-known to Graphic Design Professor Eric Benson and his team. Eric Benson is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Graphic Design Program at the University of Illinois who, with the financial support of the Sustainable Student Committee, co-founded Fresh Press, an agri-fiber paper research lab in 2012. Fresh Press makes paper using harvest waste from the Sustainable Student Farm to demonstrate that agricultural fiber is a more sustainable alternative to tree fiber. Fresh Press also hopes to create a new standard of community supported agriculture, or CSA, through a new project called Fiber, where local farmers work with businesses in a sustainable circular economy and no waste is produced. In this circular economy, farmers would grow food for the campus and community while donating agricultural residues like corn, soybean stalks, and prairie grasses to businesses like Fresh Press, where the waste is reused. Students at Fresh Press partake in this economy by making paper with these various waste fibers. When a campus or community member reserves a portion of paper from Fresh Press, they receive this handmade paper alongside fresh produce from the Student Farm. Their goal is to ultimately build a camaraderie between sustainable producers and healthy consumers!
Fresh Press also involves students through work and volunteer opportunities, workshops, and art sales. The Fiber CSA is almost entirely run by a student team working under the Benson’s guidance. The Fiber team comes up with ideas for paper shares, then makes the paper by chipping and cooking the harvest waste, beating it into pulp, and hand pulling sheets of paper. All the while, they are also working to reduce waste and energy use. Outside of the core Fiber team, other students are involved in projects that use Fresh Press paper. For instance, undergraduate and graduate Illinois artists have the opportunity to print their work at Fresh Press. The art is then sold to spread the word about the sustainable practices at Fresh Press and to help the student artists with public exposure and income.
A third component of Fresh Press is performing research. Benson explores the best agri-fibers for paper and packaging options with a Materials Science engineer, using sustainable energy usage in his lab and on the farm and developing building materials with agricultural residue. Fresh Press uses 3D printing technology and pulp molding techniques to test three-dimensional forms, such as bricks and pavement materials that, someday, could potentially be used for building infrastructure. This “fiber brick” is a part of a study aimed at making agricultural residue a useful product for even more industries to help build a stronger circular economy.
Eric and his team are always looking for new topics of research to improve Fresh Press’ mission so it can be a good example of a sustainable business. As a goal Fresh Press aims to make big reductions in its carbon footprint and expand its collaboration with the community beyond the university campus. Fresh Press will be selling shares and doing workshops at the Quad in October To find out more about Fresh Press and check out their hand-made paper visit https://freshpress.studio/fiber!
By Donna Dimtirova