Packaging in the 21st century

By Eili Skrivervik
This article is written in collaboration with Grønt Punkt.

About one third of the food produced never makes it from farm to fork, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Food waste is a growing and global issue, plastic packaging is just one part of it. Plastic is an important material when it comes to food packaging both due to low weight and good protection qualities. However, it isn’t very sustainable.

Squishy water

Skipping Rocks Lab is on a mission to eliminate plastic water bottles. Their first product, Ooho!, is a biodegradable and edible capsule for water made from seaweed. The gelatinous packaging is compostable and edible, and meant to be peeled off like fruit. The process they are currently developing allows for them to be made on the spot, just before consumption, eliminating the need for trucking bottled water long distances. Ooho! tastes and hydrates the same as water, yet it doesn’t pollute and puts an end to the ugly footprint plastic bottles leave on the environment. They are currently being trialled at events as an alternative to plastic bottles. Whether people are ready for drinking from a squishy, jellyfish-like blob remains the question.

Food waste turns packaging

Food ends up as waste for a number of reasons. Badly stored produce, produce that goes bad or that gets damaged under transport, items that never get picked off supermarket shelves, food that is marked with wrong expiration dates or that goes out of date, and improper packaged items all ends up in landfills. On top of that come all the resources that go into producing the food and transporting it. With changing values and increased awareness, many companies and organisations are making honest efforts in reducing food waste. Researchers at Egypt’s Nile University are doing similar things with shrimp shells. They buy shrimp shells discarded by restaurants, supermarkets and local fishermen at low prices, and use it to make plastic. Chitosan is the key component from the shrimp shells to creating eco-plastic. After being dissolved and dried, the plastic can be used to make anything, including packaging. The plastic also has antibacterial properties. Estimates today suggest Egypt imports around 3,500 tonnes of shrimp annually, which produces about 1,000 tonnes of shells as waste. Making a sustainable product from the waste is a step forward in green packaging and in the circular economy. Although the biodegradable plastic bags aren’t commercially available yet, the project does have the potential for large-scale industrial production.

The packaging issue reports that production of plastic is nearly 300 million tons annually, half of which is for single use. Packaging is the largest end use market segment accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage. IKEA is one of the companies that are looking to swap plastic packaging for smarter and more environmental solutions. And so, out goes polystyrene and in goes fungus. The fungi packaging, developed by US based firm Ecovative, will be a huge step forward for the furniture giant – moving from polystyrene, which is tricky to recycle, to a biodegradable option. When a retailer the size of IKEA is making a clear effort to reduce their use of plastic, to satisfy customers wishes and to have a greener footprint, it indicates a major shift.

We are still a long way from making packaging waste disappear. But dude. We’re working on it.

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