Over 360 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally every year, the largest chunk of which is allocated to packaging materials. Accounting for around 40% of our global plastic consumption, our reliance on plastic packaging is quite literally suffocating the planet. With far from perfect recycling practices, 55% of UK waste ends up in landfills where the breakdown of matter produces harmful greenhouse gases, a major contributing factor for climate change. Experts predict that landfills could reach maximum capacity as early as 2023, which not only begs the question where will our rubbish go? but also poses a serious threat to human health as toxic gases and leachate make their way into the surrounding environment, contaminating soil and water supplies.
Luckily for us (and the planet) there are some clever solutions to both our landfill capacity problem and our over-reliance on plastic being developed right now. Here are a few packaging innovations that caught our eye:
It’s fair to say that Australians know a thing or two about seafood, but now they’re not just eating it, they’re making plastic from it! Sydney student Angelina Arora has developed a strong, lightweight plastic made from a combination of chitin (a substance extracted from prawn, lobster and crab shells) and fibroin (an insoluble protein found in silkworms) that decomposes around 1.5 million times faster than commercial plastic. There’s nothing fishy about that…
We’re not talking about the ridiculous plastic bags found around the fruit that already has its own packaging, but rather the latest announcement from Dole who are developing compostable packaging made from banana leaves and pineapple skin. As part of their initiative to move towards zero fruit loss within the company, Dole are looking at ways to turn the skins and leaves of their fruits into pulp that will then be used to create new compostable packaging for their products, replacing all of their current plastic packaging.
“If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.”
Luigi Sigismondi, Dole President
The one thing they can’t control though is consumer food waste. A recent report from the Waste and Resources Action Programme found that UK households are throwing away 4.5 million tonnes of food a year and although this number is falling, there’s still a long way to go. Do your part to tackle the food waste problem and turn any overripe bananas into this delicious recipe for a chocolate chip banana bread. It’s for the good of the planet.
The process of producing bottled water requires around 6 times as much water per bottle than is actually contained in it; a fact even more startling when you discover that 1 million of them are sold every minute! Obviously carrying a reusable bottle is always preferable, but if you find yourself without it and feeling a little thirsty then Evian might be your second-best option. The already certified carbon neutral company is launching its first fully recyclable, label free, 100% recycled PET bottle making it one of the more environmentally friendly water options on the market.
But if you’re still set on avoiding plastic then how about a water you can eat? Ooha water bubbles by Notpla are seaweed-based capsules that can be filled with liquid and then eaten or tossed, where they will biodegrade in 4-6 weeks (roughly the same time as a piece of fruit). The company partnered with Lucozade to test them out at the London Marathon in 2019 in an effort to reduce the 760,000 plastic bottles discarded by 2018’s runners and were a big hit.
You don’t need to run a marathon to try them out though. If parties are more your thing then you might like Loliware’s biodegr(edible) seaweed-based cups, that are not only edible but are strong enough to be refilled. Available in different colours and flavours, they could transform the waste problem created through single-use cups at sporting and music events. Pretty handy too if you don’t fancy the line at the food trucks…
Plastic Designed for the Ocean
Well not quite, but it’s perfectly safe if (or perhaps when) it ends up there. Nuatan’s innovative new 100% plant based biodegradable natural plastic is safe to be eaten by aquatic animals, and since 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans annually, that’s a pretty big win for its underwater inhabitants!
We’ve all seen the heart-breaking photos of birds and animals caught up in the plastic rings found around drinks cans, so Carlsberg is taking action. Ditching the plastic rings for ‘snap packs’ featuring specially designed glue dots strong enough to withstand transportation but easy enough to separate (even after you’ve had a few!), the move is expected to cut the company’s plastic usage by 1,200 tonnes a year. Not to mention save a lot of lives.
Mushroom Number 6
Polystyrene is an environmental nightmare. Almost impossible to recycle yet the go-to protection solution for shipping, this material is high on the hit list for environmentalists everywhere. But an alternative for this lightweight and cost-effective material can found among the ingredients for the humble fried breakfast. Mycelium foam is bio-engineered from agricultural waste mixed with the root-like structures of mushrooms where the material gets its name. It has the same manufacturing costs as its planet polluting ugly sister but Mycelium requires no fossil fuels and biodegrades in just a few weeks. With Ikea already making the switch and more brands expected to follow suit, it’s finally time to say goodbye to the toxic number 6 plastic.
Plastic That Doesn’t Leave a Sour Taste
While most fruits and vegetables can be found package free with relative ease, one of the tricker ones to find is bulk citrus fruits without the unrecyclable net bag. Austrian company VPZ is aiming to change that by developing a net made from beech tree pulp, a natural by-product of the sustainable foresting industry. Trees in FSC certified forests undergo regular thinning to allow stronger trees more space and light to grow. The felled trees are then chipped and turned into a pulp that is used to make the nets, making them fully compostable and biodegradable within a few weeks under both industrial and home conditions. Whilst you wait for these to hit UK stores, why not turn your old net bags into some zero-waste dish scrubbers. All you need are some nets, thread and five minutes with this tutorial.
How Can I Help?
As loyal customers of charrli it’s safe to assume that you’re firmly on board with the refill and reuse lifestyle. Every small act that you take to reduce packaging waste can have a huge impact on the environment and the easiest way to support development in this area is to vote with your wallet. Recent research by Amcor discovered that consumers are waking up to the harmful effects of our buying habits and “… are increasingly making buying decisions that factor in environmental considerations.”
Make your voice heard and advocate for change by pressuring brands who aren’t doing enough to reduce packaging. It can be as easy as a short email letting them know why sustainability and the environment is important to you as a customer and how you feel the brand falls short in this area. Meaningful feedback like this from customers helps to shape future initiatives and influence the direction of the brand and can be done from the comfort of your sofa.
What’s the best piece of packaging innovation you’ve seen? Let us know over on Instagram @charrli_refill.
Written by Hannah Beazley, a freelance sustainability writer and designer. Photos from Pinterest.