Edible kelp packaging and plastic-free insulation
Edible kelp packaging and plastic-free insulation: 9 innovations designed to help end plastic pollution
It's likely that only 9% of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics to have been made since 1950 made have been recycled. As part of edie's Circular Economy Week, edie and Springwise highlight nine innovations aiming to help the world produce less plastic and recycle what we already have.
Here are nine of the most exciting innovations that are helping to reduce our global plastic footprint.
- Edible, kelp-based packaging
Using low-emission manufacturing processes and renewably sourced biomaterials, Norwegian material science company B’ZEOS is working with global corporations to replace single-use plastic packaging with seaweed-based alternatives.
The company’s first product was an edible drinking straw, but its line of alternative packaging has since expanded thanks to partnerships with Nestle and Spanish plastic manufacturer Aitiip. Seaweed does not require any fertilisation, pesticides, or freshwater – which is what makes it such an attractive alternative to other, land-grown, crop-based biomaterials. B’ZEOS’s production processes do not use any toxic chemicals, and the formula for each packaging product is tailored to its final use.
2. A new kind of compostable plastic
San Francisco-based startup Intropic Materials is developing a bioplastic that can be composted at home. According to a study published in Nature , this new material breaks down within days or weeks depending on the type of plastic and the conditions of the compost – such as its temperature.
Normally, microbes use enzymes to slowly ‘eat’ biodegradable plastic. In the case of the new material, however, the enzymes are built into the plastic itself. When the plastic is thrown away, and the humidity and temperature are right, the enzymes are activated.
Because the new material will break down into monomers, it could also be recycled rather than composted. And the embedded enzymes also break down the plastic more completely than microbe-produced enzymes. This is because they go from one polymer chain to the next, rather than breaking down the polymer in random areas. As a result, no microplastic remains following decomposition. This could help overcome the current environmental challenges associated with materials like oxo-degradable plastics, which have been shown to decompose but to leave microplastic fragments as they do, polluting soils and water.
3. Compostable packaging made from agricultural waste
Using agricultural waste materials, German startup Traceless has created three new types of packaging. All three are designed specifically as a replacement for high-volume, single-use plastics. The new materials are fully compostable, even at home, and are completely safe to use on food.
The polymers used in the company’s products—a film, a sprayable coating, and a hard plastic alternative—are natural and without any chemical alteration, meaning that they decompose quickly. The hard plastic option can be used in 3D printers, dyed, moulded, and printed. Similarly, the film can also be dyed and printed, as well as heat-sealed.
The company is in the early stages of development, with its technology currently patent-pending.
4. Children’s toys made from recycled rice crop waste
According to The World Counts, 90% of toys on the market are made of plastic. And the toy industry uses 40 tonnes of plastic for every $1 million in revenue. This makes it the most plastic-intensive industry in the world.
Now, South Korean designer Subin Cho has created a children’s stacking game made out of rice husks – a voluminous by-product of rice cultivation. The game makes use of sturdy, brightly coloured pieces that look like wood and are compostable. When a family no longer needs the toy, the pieces can be buried and will fertilize the soil once it is buried.
Rice husks constitute about one-fifth of the total weight of rice, and the enormous volume of the waste material produced each year causes problems for farmers around the world. Using rice husks to make toys, therefore, has further benefits, as it prevents the waste from being burned – an approach with a considerable emissions footprint.
5. Water-repellant building insulation made from popcorn
Image: Karl Bachl GmbH & Co. KG
Plastic is not only found in applications that are consumer-facing for most of their lifecycle. There are also many ‘hidden’ uses of plastic. Building insulation is a good example, with plastic materials or mineral fibres covering around 90% of the global insulation market.