“Plastic is Fantastic” doesn’t it sound very 70’s ? A perfect magical solution to every human kind problem. A miracle discovery that flooded deep into our environment in no time and became the new paradigm for the Industrial production. “Cheap and Chic”, ubiquitous as almost unlimited application it was brought to our lives without even a second thought on its afterlife and any possible consequence on our life.
It’s only decade later, when peoples discover that the material has infiltrated our environment so profoundly that it has now fused into our foods. Yes ! Like it or not we are now eating plastic or some of its derivative substances in micro doses.
Comfort and Practicality often dictate our behaviors and this is certainly the reason why getting rid of such an invasive material feels like a comfort regression and scares humanity to forecast a life without it !
Indeed, we are almost forced by society habits to use plastics : shopping bags, textile, water bottles, smart phone, home appliances, electronics… (Lets stop right here or it would take just an infinity of pages to numerate the plastic material application).
Awareness : a fighting weapon
Knowledge is power ! Now the world knows so in fact we can make the necessary change.
If you’re looking for solutions, you may feel relieved for a purchase featuring a Recyclable or Biodegradable logo !
Who would not do something for the planet ? It’s great, as it gives us a good conscience without changing any of our habits.
Here comes the very tempting biodegradable plastic option. But is this plastic really what it claims? A material that disintegrates by magic, in nature?
Bad news : Not at all, as shown by an experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Plymouth, England.
In theory, everything is degradable. A lighter breaks down in 100 years, a disposable diaper in 500 years, just like a good old plastic bag. It’s just a matter of time but until then it’s turning into more and more micro quantity of plastic into our plates.
Biodegradable, but not recyclable
Moreover, the biodegradable, does not recycle.
What people do not understand is that biodegradable absolutely does not means recyclable. There is usually a confusion here. A biodegradable plastic bag cannot be recycled, it will have to be either disposed in an incineration plant or in a storage center. From an environmental point of view, this notion of biodegradability is very arguable.
Moreover, there is no universally accepted standard for biodegradable.
Compostable ? Yes but….
The only reliable standard is the compostable plastic bag, these bags of potato starch, seaweed, corn starch … They are recognized with “OK compost logos”, which theoretically means a 90% degraded bag in less than six months – always in precise conditions: humidity, 60 to 90 ° C in temperature.
But it only works if someone picks up your carrot peels, egg shells and compost bag to offer the ideal conditions to degrade.
So what materials are truly compostable ?
Even if nothing is absolutely perfect yet, here is a list of 10 inspiring sustainable materials you probably never heard about…
1 / Microfibrillated cellulose (MFC)
A natural performance enhancer for bio-based packaging materials.
Replacing packaging raw materials containing fossil fuel with natural, renewable and biodegradable raw material – MFC. It is a natural product, stronger than steel, safe for food contact, and its superpowers are set to transform the paperboard and packaging industry.
Imagine replacing plastic films in packaging. Or aluminium foil in long shelf-life packages.
So, by using bio-based MFC barrier films we could reduce the metal in billions of food and beverage products.
2. Corn, potatoes and sugarcane bioplastics
A great example is Paperfoam. This industrial starch based solution is an ultra light, hassle-free, responsible and eco-friendly solution for manufacturers and consumers. In addition, they prove that packaging can be as green as it gets and still look luxurious.
PaperFoam® is environment-friendly throughout its lifecycle. The ingredients – industrial starch, fibers and water – are biobased and renewable. Production is energy-efficient and low-carbon, and the material is home compostable or recyclable with paper. Nature helps breaking down the material in a matter of weeks, pollution-free with no harmful leftovers. A responsible and eco-friendly solution for manufacturers and consumers.
This giant member of the grass family is a true friend of the environment. Not only does it reduce our packaging-related carbon footprint, it also grows quickly and the plants deep root systems protect against soil erosion. You probably know bamboo from a variety of applications ranging from bicycles to clothing. But what you might not know is that it is also a highly sustainable alternative to foams, corrugate and molded paper pulp. Plus, the fact that bamboo is so tough makes it perfect for packaging solutions that require strength and flexibility.
4. Natural fibre
Bananas, coconuts, palm leaves, softwood forestry by-products, grasses and cereal stalks have the potential to be molded into any shape or turned into bioplastics. By melting or pressing and then injecting them into molds, the biomaterials can perfectly compete with petroleum-based plastics. The packaging materials share characteristics with those made by petroleum but the latter is completely biodegradable and non-toxic. Even better, thanks to its vegetable origin it can even be used as fertilizer once degraded.
5. Micro-organic materials
Organic materials like fungi, algae, seaweed and other bacteria based materials are seeing an uprise. These materials are 100% biodegradable and can be manipulated to grow in certain shapes and colors.
A few examples:
Agar, a gelatinous substance derived from boiling seaweed can be used to create textures that can replace bubble wrap, plastic bottles and foam packaging.
Another option is the “mushroom-based plastic” Myco-foam. It has the same properties as plastic but is produced from mycelium, a fungal network of threadlike cells. In addition it is 100% natural, 100% biodegradable and breaks down in just a few weeks returning nutrients to earth instead of polluting polystyrene.
6. Edible food wrappers
With consumers becoming more and more annoyed by wasteful packaging in the food industry, brands and scientists are constantly on the lookout for an eco-friendly solution. The popular Japanese Botan Rice Candy, with an edible clear rice-paper wrapper was an inspiration for companies like Wikicells and Loliware to create an edible solution that offers sanitary protection.
As a result, there are a variety of sustainable food wrappers on the market, ranging from frozen yogurt pearls to edible drinking cups. The packaging also breaks down quickly when thrown away. Although this changes the rules for food packaging design, it creates a whole new world of possibilities to communicate a message.
Not ready for this just yet? Another great more versatile option is Lactip. Lactip is quite new and unknown but offers many opportunities for packaging in the agriculture, food and pharmaceutical industry. Lactip are thermoplastic pellets made out of milk proteins that can be used as a raw material for thermoforming, films, or any kind of plastic applications. Not only do they have a high usability because you can shape them however you please through the use of heat, they are also 100% biodegradable, edible and dissolve in water.
7. Circular thinking packaging
Are you a fan of circular thinking? Then ECOR is the answer for you. An advanced corporate waste solution made from cellulose fibre waste (think wasted cardboard, paper etc.). ECOR creates a 100% non-toxic, bio-based building and design material that is easily manipulatable with heat and pressure. It’s a great alternative for traditional wood-based and plastic materials suitable for applications such as graphics/signage, packaging, construction, architecture and design, furniture, fixtures and consumer products.
Surprisingly, the floor covering is a lot more eco-friendly than it might appear. Not to be confused with vinyl that contains a synthetic mix of chlorinated petrochemicals, linoleum is made entirely from natural materials—linseed oil, natural resin, ground cork dust, wood flour, and powdered limestone—resulting in a floor choice that is both biodegradable and can be incinerated to provide a relatively clean source of energy.
9. Desert Sand
Recently developed by students Carolyn Tam, Hamza Oza, Matteo Maccario and Saki Maruyama at the Imperial College London, Finite is a composite material comparable to concrete that uses abundant desert sand rather than the fine white sand usually used in construction (and which is now running out). It makes for a biodegradable material that at the same time is saving the world from the next sustainability crisis. Unlike concrete that can’t biodegrade, Finite’s organic binders allow it not only to be left to decompose but it can also be collected and reused for multiple life-cycles, reducing material consumption.
Cork is something of a superfood of construction materials, so much so that we’ve written a whole feature on it. The harvesting of cork is a completely renewable process that causes no harm to the tree and naturally regrows after ten years. It also boasts many desirable properties as a fire retardant, acoustic insulator and is extremely waterproof. Its adaptive qualities have seen it being used both for internal and external purposes.
Choice is yours
So as you can see, no material or industrialize process can claim the “0 footprint” winning award.
Nevertheless, material solutions are available and can gratefully impact right now the construction, packaging and product industries.
This is our responsibility as creators, business owners and consumers to support these sustainable choices.
Choice is yours, and change comes from little decisions.
You have the power to act now by choosing sustainable solutions for your business.