Innovations in Package Design: Edible & (truly) Biodegradable Plastic Alternatives

I've always had a weakness for package design—the whole process fascinates me. Every bag, carton, and box is a piece of art in a certain sense: it was thoughtfully designed by someone (or a group of someones), who paid minute attention to all the details necessary to protect and contain the product inside, as well as to catch our eye and entice us to purchase it.  

But since starting down the path towards a Zero Waste lifestyle, I find myself paying more attention to the materials used in the package than to the graphic renderings on the label or the shape of the container. 

Most days, I can't help but notice the overwhelming amount of plastic that encircles the things we buy. During particularly pessimistic grocery store visits, my imagination flashes forward to the interminable future that awaits the multicolored panoply once each piece makes its way to the landfill, or the ocean, or the dank alley behind my building. 

And then, I put the bag of frozen strawberries into my cart, because smoothies are a main food group in my diet. Sigh. 

Anyway. While I work on getting my zero-waste act together, there are scientists and good samaritans working on viable replacements for plastic packaging that achieve all of the benefits of plastic packaging (i.e. being lightweight, inexpensive, and sanitary), and improve upon its less-noble characteristics.

To stoke the flames of our collective optimism, here are a few of the products that have crossed my desk lately:  



E6PR™ (Eco Six Pack Rings) are back to save the Ocean, with the official mass scale product launch. The sustainable packaging startup brings their award-winning idea to life as the first mass-produced batch of eco-friendly six-pack rings hit store shelves in the coming weeks.

Edible Food Packaging Research at Oregon State University

A scientist at Oregon State University is developing edible food packaging as well as edible coating for fruits and vegetables. Her goals: reduce plastic waste and keep food fresher longer. Katie Herzog visits Yanyun Zhao in her lab for a taste test. ReInventors is produced by KCTS 9 and PBS Digital Studios, and hosted by Katie Herzog.

Jeff & Dane Anderson, co-founders, are twins who decided to create a solution to plastic waste after they kept experiencing getting hit in the face with plastic pollution. Full Cycle Bioplastics has developed a proprietary technology that converts organic wastes, such as inedible food waste, agricultural by-products and dirty paper/cardboard, into a compostable bioplastic called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) that degrades harmlessly in the soil and the ocean.

This one strays a little bit from the topic of plastics packaging, but I love that Apeel is using biological science to reduce food waste—a huge problem both environmentally and economically around the globe, and especially here in the United States.