Getting Past the Plastic: Exploring Alternatives

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A Worldwide Staple

Plastic is a pretty impressive material capable of providing society with all sorts of advantages, and yet it is also responsible for sitting interminably in our landfills, leeching into our soil and water sources, and chocking up our oceans. Its notable properties, that which make it so lightweight and durable, are also what make it so awful to the environment. For starters it is petroleum based for the most part, which means there’s the whole extraction factor to consider, but even beyond that, once it’s processed and manufactured into one of the countless objects we used daily, unfortunately it’s shelf-life outlasts our own.  It was designed to last, and yet it’s being used for single serving “disposable” items such as bottled drinks, product packaging, grocery bags, and children’s toys (to name but a few). Recycling isn’t quite the solution either. While it may lessen the environment impact to a certain extent, the ideal is to dramatically cut back on its use, and thereby avoid the recycling issue altogether.

Seaweed

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Some aspiring young social entrepreneurs from Japan have devised a way to convert seaweed into a packaging material that could replace plastic. Kosuke Araki, Noriaki Maetani, and Akira Muraoka, the creative minds behind AMAM Design, have crafted this new potential packing material which they call Agar Plastic. It’s essentially derived from red algae and could provide countless consumer applications.

Click either image to learn more.

Agar_Plastic

Mushrooms

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There are also a number of phenomenal developments in using mushrooms aka fungus to generate plastic replacement material.

Below is a pretty cool motherboard video sharing the work that’s being done out of a university in the Netherlands.

Alternatively, there is work being done in North America as well, as demonstrated by New York’s Ecovative Design (click here to look them up).

This is what the Myco packaging looks like (below), and there’s now talk of IKEA being converted to adopt this new packaging material as well. Click the image to learn more.

Mushroom-Packaging

Finally, if these tidbits haven’t yet peaked your curiosity on fungal packaging, check out the video below! It’s a TED Talk providing a comprehensive explanation of fungus as plastic. Couple years older (2010), but still worth the watch.

Shrimp

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Lastly (at least for this post, as I’m sure there will be more innovation to come), there’s shrimp carcasses. Yes, you read that right. Researchers from the Harvard Wyuss Institute have been working on a bio-plastic developed from shrimp shells. It’s strong, light, cost effective, and happily biodegradable. Furthermore, this doesn’t imply going out and suddenly slaughtering shrimp by the millions, but rather putting to use the expelled shrimp shells that we consume regardless.

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In sum, there are a variety of great initiatives out there should you have the interest, so it really boils down to having the desire for change. Humans truly are incredible problem solvers, so the first stage of solution development is coming to terms with the notion that we may in fact have a problem with the way we are doing things, and that we can improve it. Hope this left you with a little inspiration;)

2 thoughts on “Getting Past the Plastic: Exploring Alternatives

  1. katharineotto says:

    Well, there remains the problem of the already-disposed-of plastic that is filling landfills and polluting the oceans. There is the option of waste-to-energy plants that have some potential. I disapprove of any single-use packaging, myself, whether of hydrocarbons or fungus. We are far too wasteful. The packaging raises the price of everything and sometimes costs more than the items within. Think bottled water. Think McDonalds.

    Like

    • Marc-Antoni says:

      You’re absolutely right, there is a definitive need to cut back on our day-to-day consumption and diminish the disposable culture, however it is not contrary to finding alternatives to plastic. Indeed there is so much in our oceans and landfills to begin with, but thankfully there are ideas in that department as well:) I’ve shared recently on my FB page about some young entrepreneurs who had created a system to help pick out the plastic in our oceans. No an all encompassing solution to be sure, but a valid contribution nonetheless, as we work towards shifting our culture and social consciousness.

      Like

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