To celebrate plastic-free July, discover some of our favourite innovative materials replacing packaging
Over the past 30 years, the world’s production of plastic has exploded, with plastic consumption quadrupling. And, of the 7 billion tonnes of plastic that has been produced to date, less than 10 per cent has been recycled. The rest is landfilled, burnt, or disposed of in the environment, with the result that 75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic is estimated to be found in our oceans. Here it harms marine life and disrupts eco-systems in other ways, such as by spreading invasive coastal species to the open ocean.
Started in 2011, Plastic-Free July is a key initiative of the Plastic-Free Foundation that challenges ordinary people to reduce their use of single-use plastic in their everyday lives. The movement has already inspired more than 100 million participants in 190 countries, who are encouraged to share their stories and receive the latest tips on how to avoid plastics.
Every week at Springwise we spot a large number of innovators who are developing solutions to replace single-use plastic. To celebrate the event discover some of the best plastic alternatives recently added to the Springwise Library.
Photo source Chemolex
Research conducted by Kenyan startup Chemolex on single-use plastics in the River Mathare in Nairobi revealed that disposable nappies make up 43 per cent of the solid waste in the river, while single-use plastic packaging made up 29 per cent of the pollution. The company is attempting to eliminate both of these waste forms through the creation of its bioplastic alternatives. Chemolex’s latest product, called “Biopactic”, aims to completely replace the use of single-use plastic materials (specifically polypropylene and polyethylene) in the manufacturing of nappies, food packaging, and other product containers. The main raw material in this bioplastic is an invasive plant species called the water hyacinth. The benefit of its manufacture is therefore multifaceted: it removes an invasive species from Lake Victoria, and it creates a 100 per cent biodegradable and recyclable plastic alternative. Find out more
Photo source Earthodic
Single-use plastic packaging is highly unsustainable, but wax- or plastic-coated alternatives are not much better as they are difficult to recycle or compost. Now, Australian materials startup, Earthodic, hopes to change this with a bio-based coating solution it calls ‘Paperbarc’. This proprietary coating for pulp and paper products contains 100 per cent USDA certified bio-based content. And, according to the startup, Paperbarc can also be repulped, recycled, and composted, unlike many wax and plastic-coated products. Find out more
By now, most people are familiar with the problems presented by single-use plastic bags. Each one is used on average for just 15 minutes, then sent to landfill, where it spends the next few hundred years. In addition, they are made from petroleum products, contributing to CO2 emissions. Yet, despite increasing regulation and even bans, single-use plastic bags are still widely used, largely because of their utility. An Australian company may have now come up with a solution that retains the benefits of the plastic bag without the plastic. Cassava Bags Australia makes biodegradable bags and film derived from cassava, a starchy root vegetable similar to a potato. The bags and film easily decompose into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass, are 100 per cent non-toxic, meet stringent international standards for compostability, will not release microplastics, and won’t cause harm if they end up in the water. Find out more
Photo source Woola
A millennia-old fabric, wool remains popular worldwide. And as researchers delve deeper into its characteristics and capabilities, they are discovering new ways in which the material can be useful. Significant amounts of wool are discarded during production, and rather than burn or compost it, Estonian company Woola has identified an opportunity to turn wool waste into a valuable replacement for plastic. Woola has created sustainable, reusable, recyclable wool-based packaging as a means of eliminating the need for fossil-fuel-based bubble wrap. The company’s mission is to reduce by half the amount of bubble wrap used globally by 2030. Wool is soft, flexible, and naturally water- and temperature-resistant – all qualities that make it perfect for packaging fragile items. It is also extremely durable. Production of the packaging takes place in Estonia and is powered by renewable energy.
Warming oceans and increased fertiliser and pollution run-off have sparked the largest seaweed bloom on the planet, visible from space. The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, as it’s known, clogs coastlines from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, causing an array of suffocating problems before releasing large amounts of methane when it decomposes. To try and tame Sargassum, Puerto Rican company Carbonwave has decided to turn it into valuable biomaterials for the agricultural, fashion, and cosmetic industries. The startup was the first company to find a way to process this seaweed profitably. Using its unique method to extract biopolymers, Carbonwave has produced a wide range of Sargassum-based biomaterials that can replace fossil-fuel-based products like emulsifiers, textiles, and plastics.
Written By: Matthew Hempstead
5th July 2023