Innovation That Matters

The top five packaging innovations of 2021

Innovation Snapshot

Take a look at the innovations that made packaging more sustainable in 2021

It’s no secret that, for many consumers, plastic packaging has become public enemy number one. Its negative impact is well-documented. Earlier this year a system of giant floating barriers operated by non-profit The Ocean Cleanup fished 28,659 kilogrammes of plastic out of the Pacific Ocean. And that was just one mission. According to the journal Science, between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year.

All kinds of alternative packaging materials have been suggested, and a diverse range of initiatives have been developed to avoid plastic being wastefully discarded. It’s also clear that consumers care about the issue. One survey found that more than half of customers take sustainable packaging into account when selecting a product. So, the key question remains: what are the solutions?

Over the past year, Springwise has spotted several packaging innovations that aim to reduce the impact of plastic.

Seaweed-based packaging brand to reach the market soon

London-based startup Notpla has created a range of biodegradable packaging solutions made from seaweed and plants. The company’s first product was the ‘Ooho’, an edible packaging for liquids that has up to 90 per cent less carbon impact than plastic.

In 2020, Notpla partnered with online food delivery company Just Eat to create seaweed-lined takeaway containers. The containers use an innovative coating that is completely natural and home compostable, providing grease proofing without adding plastic. This means that the containers can be recycled, unlike many paper-based takeaway containers that use plastic for grease-proofing.

The focus for Notpla in 2021 has been on commercialising their initial products, with plans to spread across Europe and into the US.

Compostable packaging made from agricultural waste

Agricultural waste doesn’t sound like an attractive solution for food packaging. But German startup Traceless has used this seemingly unpromising material to make three new types of compostable packaging that are completely safe to use for food.

The products include a film, a sprayable coating and a hard plastic alternative, and the polymers used to make them are natural, without any chemical alteration, meaning that they are much quicker to decompose.

Packaging waste turned into vegan leather

Finding new uses for waste material, is another way to solve the packaging problem. This is the approach taken by Israeli startup Remeant. The company converts single-use plastics into sustainable vegan leathers. Each textile is unique, produced as it is from a particular set of waste products.

The technology is capable of upcycling some of the most difficult to reuse waste plastics, including bubble wrap. The upcycled fabrics are durable, lightweight, waterproof, and washable. 

A super-slippery bottle that helps you get out every last drop

New packaging with a very slippery surface could save considerable amounts of water, resources, and money. The slippery packaging was developed by LiquiGlide and its design allows manufacturers to make more concentrated products. This is because sticky substances normally need to be combined with lots of water in order to be dispensed. Removing the need to dilute a product reduces its water intensity.

The new bottles are also easier for consumers to recycle because they do not need to be cleaned out first. And, of course, less product is wasted, which saves resources in manufacturing and shipping. Using the slippery material for sauce bottles alone could save one million tonnes of food from being thrown out each year.

Sustainable, flat-packed pasta changes shape when cooked

Researchers from the Morphing Matter Lab at Carnegie Mellon University have devised a way to create flat pasta that morphs into a range of shapes when cooked, saving on energy used for packaging and transportation.

The team inscribe carefully-placed patterns of grooves in the flat pasta. When the pasta is then dunked into hot water, these patterns cause it to bend and form traditional tube, spiral and twist shapes. The ‘flat-packed’ pasta is easier to store which reduces the carbon footprint involved in transporting it.

Words: Matthew Hempstead

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