By Warren Lutz – Contributing Writer
If you think sustainable packaging design is all about stuff that has been recycled, you’re only halfway there. Yes, recycled packaging material continues to grow in use, but recent innovations have created entirely new alternatives, many of which are biodegradable and/or compostable. Could any of these materials work for your packaging design project?
Several companies have taken corn kernels and created a biodegradable plastic out of polylactic acid (PLA), an industrial resin.Newman’s Own, Wild Oats and even WalMart currently use PLA packaging. While there are some questions about its true environmental benefits, PLA seems to be an improvement over plastic since it takes less energy and generates less pollution to produce, and it comes from a renewable source.
Dell, Inc. now ships a majority of its products using this material, which grows near its manufacturing facilities. It grows quickly, too, which makes bamboo packaging more economical and less messy to produce than the heavy clam shell packaging typically used for computer products. Dell claims the bamboo it uses is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes tree harvesting that has minimal effect on surrounding ecosystems. Bamboo can also take a pounding, which makes it perfect for protecting that brand new laptop.
Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Be Green Packaging has created a plastic substitute from renewable plant-based fibrous material that is currently being used for products sold by Proctor & Gamble, Whole Foods and 7-Eleven. Since switching to Be Green Packaging’s products, packaging design for P&G’s Gillette Fusion ProGlide razors uses 57% less plastic and weighs 20% less than before, according to the company.
We all know wood pulp is used to create paper and can be recycled into other paper products. But UK-based Innovia Films takes wood pulp and creates a cellulose-based film that is similar to plastic. The company’s product, NatureFlex, is being used by packaging designers to wrap chocolates, coffee, tea, snacks and other products. Unlike wood, NatureFlex is glossy and transparent – but similar to wood, it’s non-static and eventually breaks down in your compost heap.
Mycelium – the part of mushrooms and other fungi comprising thread-like roots – is being combined with seed husks for use as an alternative to polystyrene/Styrofoam packaging. Both Dell and Crate and Barrel use mycelium-based packaging “blocks” made by Ecovative Design to protect products during shipping. The material is biodegradable and compostable, according to its manufacturer.
Of course, there are many more ways for a company to reduce its carbon footprint through smarter packaging design. Removing extraneous packaging such as paper inserts, using recycled materials, or shipping products in reusable containers or bags – these are all great ideas, too.
Is what you’re using now for product packaging design more environmentally sound than these methods? Let us know!
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