Getting Past the Plastic: Exploring Alternatives

Made From Dinos

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, leaching into our soil and water sources, and choking 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.
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Seaweed

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. As a biodegradable, eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastic, the possibilities are endless.

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Agar Plastic (Algae) Products

Seaweed thus represents a brilliant and sustainable option for so many needs that we currently resolve with plastic. It is an abundant and fairly renewable source of material that can be molded into countless forms. The applications are immense! Please click any of the post images to learn more it.

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Mushrooms

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).

Mushroom-Packaging

Myco (Mushroom packaging )

This is what a fungus-based, Myco package looks like. The good news it’s versatile and biodegradable, and there’s now talk of IKEA being converted to adopt this new packaging material! Click the image to learn more.

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

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Shrimp

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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Crustacean Shell Packaging

Be it from seaweed, mushroom, or shrimp, there are plastic alternatives out there! They may not have been adopted yet, however these are but a sampling of the great initiatives that exist as we seek to distance ourselves from plastic disposables. Other solutions include finding alternative practices that require little to no packaging or doing away with disposables entirely. 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 a belief that we can improve it. Hope this left you with a little inspiration;)

5 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.

    • 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.

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