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, 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 (see also Bag of the Future), 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 (See Europe to Ban Single-Use Plastics).
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.
Algae Products (Agar Plastic)
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 them.
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).
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.
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.
Crustacean Shell Packaging
Admittedly, not an obvious connection at first, but when you contemplate it a little longer, it’s actually surprisingly logical. Crustaceans develop this shell organically, and leverage its strength and weight. More recently, Montreal’s own McGill University have also developed a comparable means of plastic alternative from the shells of crabs, shrimps, and lobster (CBC).
So Much Awesomeness
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 (see Developing Awareness), and a belief that we can improve it. Hope this left you with a little inspiration;)