Recent statistics from Forbes show that 311 million tons of plastic were produced in 2014, up from 15 million in 1964, adding “the number is expected to triple by 2050, unless some sort of radical change takes place.” With one plastic bottle taking on average 450 years to decompose, it is clear to see how non-recycled waste can fill our landfills and contaminate the earth at such an alarming pace.
The fact that so much waste plastic is produced every day for packaging inspired designer Ari Jónsson to investigate different, more sustainable options. Whilst studying he came across a powdered form of agar (a substance made from algae), that when mixed with water could be moulded into bottles. As long as the bottle is full of liquid it retains its shape but once empty it naturally decomposes. This completely ethical and very much sustainable replacement to plastic seems to have only one downside, which is the liquid contents may extract a small amount of taste from the bottle. However, Jónsson points out that as the 100% natural materials make any residue completely safe, plus if the user likes the taste they could even eat the bottle once they had finished drinking!
This idea of edible packaging has been picked up by Indian start up Bakeys, who recently created plant based eating utensils in an attempt to help reduce plastic waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. Completely edible and biodegradable, the cutlery is mainly made from sorghum, a millet plant that uses 60 times less water than rice. By using sorghum, Bakeys hopes to help create the needed market forces that will help Indian farmers gradually shift back to millets instead of focusing primarily on rice production.
It is not just small eco-start ups and student designers that are shifting their focus to more conscious operations. Even big brands like Coca Cola are jumping on the sustainable bandwagon with their unveiling of a new plant based bottle. Despite looking and feeling the same as the traditional plastic bottles, the new eco packaging is created from natural plant sugars that have been converted into the ingredients for PET (a form of polyester). A report by CNN Money revealed that approximately 30% of Coke bottles in North America are PlantBottles, but only 7% of Coke bottles around the world are made from plant materials. The company’s goal is to use PlantBottles exclusively by 2020.
Sustainable living has taken an increasingly important role for people in recent years, so it’s no surprise that companies are becoming more environmentally conscious. From plastic carrier bag charges, to MAC Cosmetics offering free makeup to people who return their empty containers – even MacDonald’s have introduced eco-friendly packaging! The need to curtail the use of plastic and non-recyclable materials is inspiring designers to find new and innovative ways to produce our favourite products in a way that is less damaging to the planet.