Nature and Biodiversity

Plastic packaging problem: Five innovative ideas

A rubber duck toy is pictured among various plastic trash on a garbage-filled shore on Freedom Island, Paranaque City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 15, 2019. Picture taken July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez - RC1EA24CC690

Plastic waste is a major problem, but new ideas could turn the tide Image: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

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Plastic Pollution

Around 13 million tonnes of plastic leaks into our oceans every year, causing untold damage to marine life, biodiversity and human health. Most plastics do not biodegrade. And yet, because the material is so versatile and alternatives are limited, we continue to use it.

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Consumers have started to demand progress on plastic waste, and especially on single-use plastics, with 48% believing manufacturers have the greatest responsibility to drive change and pioneer sustainable solutions, according to a report from research firm Kantar.

Here are four innovative ways alternatives to plastic that are being used for packaging.

1) Bottles made of soap

What’s the best way to stop people from throwing away empty soap and cosmetics packaging? Make it disappear on its own.

Mi Zhou, a master’s degree student in the Material Futures programme at Central St Martins college in London, has created elegant bottles made of vegetable-based soap that melt away once they are no longer needed.

The Soapack collection is based on perfume bottles, which Zhou says have stronger visual appeal than the packaging for standard toiletries. A thin layer of beeswax is used to line the bottles to make them waterproof, preventing the liquid contents from leaking.

Zhou’s other projects include a leather alternative made of spent grain from brewing beer, home furnishings created from used textbooks, and paper made from leaves, petals and fabric rags.

These bottles and jars are made from vegetable oil-based soap that melts away once they are no longer needed.
Image: Mi Zhou

2) KitKat origami

Japan loves KitKats. The confectionary is hugely popular in the country, where hundreds of different flavours – from strawberry to wasabi – have been introduced.

Nestlé Japan recently released new packaging for its miniature KitKat chocolate bars, which will now be wrapped in paper instead of plastic. The packaging comes with instructions on how to turn the paper into origami cranes, which are seen as a symbol of happiness.

Nestlé says the new packaging will save around 380 tonnes of plastic waste a year. The manufacturer wants 100% of its packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2025.

KitKat chocolate bar wrappers in Japan are now made of origami paper that can be folded into the shape of a bird.
Image: Nestlé Japan

3) Compostable packaging

Israel-based start-up TIPA is one of the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers of 2019 – emerging tech firms from around the world using cutting-edge solutions to help solve global problems.

The company makes flexible packaging from biomaterials that looks and feels like plastic and has the same durability and shelf life – but is fully compostable, including all laminates and labels, within 180 days.

TIPA’s products include bags for both fresh and dried food and packaging for clothing. UK food retailer Waitrose & Partners is now using TIPA bags for its organic bananas, and has estimated the move will save 18 tonnes of plastic a year.

TIPA’s packaging is as strong as plastic, but fully compostable.
Image: TIPA

4) In the Loop

The Loop Alliance was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2019. It connects global recycling business TerraCycle with some of the world’s biggest retailers and consumer goods companies to promote responsible consumption and eliminate waste.

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Instead of relying on single-use packaging, it delivers products to consumers’ doorsteps in durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused, sometimes more than 100 times.

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What is Loop and how does it work?

Products available so far through Loop include shampoo in aluminium bottles, mouthwash packaged in glass instead of plastic, and ice cream that comes in a reusable steel container.

Shampoo and conditioner can be ordered in reusable aluminium packaging through the Loop Alliance.
Image: Procter & Gamble

5. Mushrooming into shape

New York-based Evocative Designs is growing its packaging from mycelium - the root structure of mushrooms - and the agricultural byproduct of hemp.

It’s compostable and custom molded, durable and flame resistant - and it grows in just nine days.

Packaging made from mushrooms is a new alternative to plastic. Image: Ecovative Design

The company is even inviting people to create their own mycelium packaging and containers with its “grow your own” kits.

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