Six lesser-known Plastic Packaging Alternatives
Today marks the 46th annual World Environment Day. This year’s topic: “Beat plastic pollution”.
With this in mind, we have decided to take a look at some of the less well-known plastic packaging alternatives, along with the pros and cons they bring with them.
Our first alternative: Mushroom Root (Mycelium)
This clever alternative can be created by mixing mycelium with other agricultural waste, and then left to grow (yes grow!) into the desired shape by using a mould, creating a product similar to polystyrene.
2. Easily grown from agricultural waste products which are plentiful
3. Strong, lightweight, mouldable
4. Produced using less energy
5. No waste or pollution from the process itself
7. No health risks
1. Takes longer to produce than most plastics
2. Less variability and range of products can be produced
3. Not as fire resistant/good as Styrofoam
A compostable alternative: Bagasse
Bagasse is a by-product from sugarcane processing, and can easily be moulded into food packaging due to its malleability and stickiness. It’s both certified biodegradable and compostable!
1. Easily moulded, and its shape can be altered
2. Sturdy once set into shape
2. Fully compostable, breaking down without leaving toxins behind
4. Made from a by-product therefore minimising waste
5. Freezer and microwave safe
1. Herbicides and pesticides may still be used in the farming process of sugarcane, which would be unaccounted for by the packaging industry
2.Takes longer to decompose if in cold climate
3. Extremely hot food might cause bagasse to lose some of its strength
Plastic film alternative: Seaweed Membrane Bubbles
In an attempt to tackle the disposable plastic water bottle problem, UK startup Skipping Rocks Lab have created Ooho; an edible water bubble made of seaweed extract! If you don’t feel like eating it, the flexible packaging biodegrades in just 4-6 weeks, the same time as a piece of fruit. If you’re looking for plastic packaging alternatives, nature has to be a good benchmark? We think so.
1. Manufacturing Ooho is more efficient AND cheaper than producing plastic bottles
2. This process has also been applied to other food and drink products, e.g. replacing single-use condiment pots.
3. A DIY version can also be made at home
4. Clear membrane allows consumer to easily see contents
1. Must be packaged further to prevent the bubbles from bursting or getting dirty in transit
2. Each bubble can only hold up to 150ml of water
3. Must be consumed in one sitting (therefore cannot be reused)
Palm Leaf Containers
Palm leaf packaging has been developed by a number of companies, with most popular uses being for food storage in the form of small containers, or as disposable tableware. Holy Lama also uses them to package their areca palm soaps, as the leaves are a natural by-product.
1. Biodegradable & composable (sustainably disposable)
2. Aesthetically pleasing and each one is unique with a natural wood-grain finish
3. Sturdy AND lightweight
4. Safely burnable, making them great for camping tableware
5. No deforestation needed- leaves that naturally fall from the tree can be used
1. Not the cheapest option
2. Liquids can leak through if left for hours
3. Edges can be rough to touch
4. Not designed for reuse as they are slightly absorbent
Corn Starch & Sorghum Loose Fill
Loose fill made from corn starch or sorghum can be used in the same way as regular polystyrene loose fill. They boast a number of positive properties, including being non-static!
1. Biodegradable, compostable AND dissolvable in water
3. Non-toxic if swallowed
4. Nutritional components are removed, such as sugars, that would otherwise attract rodents and bugs
1. Higher weight than traditional packing peanuts means increased shipping costs
2. More expensive production than traditional options
3. Lower resilience than traditional options
Wheat and Barley 6 Pack Rings
These six pack rings have been developed by Saltwater Brewery, and are made from barley and wheat remnants which are a by-product of the brewing product. They are both biodegradable AND edible for sea life!
1.Turning the traditional plastic six-pack ring on its head, these rings may actually benefit sea life rather than harming them
2. Utilizes by-products that usually exist as waste left over from brewing.
3. Just as strong as plastic alternatives
1. More expensive to produce than plastic alternatives
2. Safely edible for marine life but not necessarily “nutritious” for them, and long term effects of adding wheat and barley to their diet is unknown.
These are all examples of products that exist in the world today, but there are also more alternatives being developed around the world continuously. Change is an expensive process, particularly for large and well-established industries. So for these new alternatives to breach into the mass market and stay there, the design must be faultless (and by that we mean it won’t need changing again to meet the markets needs). BUT supply chains are evolving to make more room for sustainable resources, so we are hopeful for the future and look forward to more interesting developments on the horizon!