Biodegradable Plastic Packaging

 Given the enormous volume of plastics that are polluting our oceans and sitting in landfills almost on a permanent basis, coming up with plastic packaging that’s convenient, inexpensive, and Earth-friendly is a huge positive development. The article features one person’s invention, then mentions others, as well.

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Margarita Talep develops

algae-based alternative to

single-use plastic packaging

 

Natashah Hitti

Dezeen

18 January 2019

 

Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products, Talep decided to develop her own eco-friendly packaging that would stand in for plastic.

Particularly concerned that we commonly allocate an indestructible material to packaging that is quickly disposed of, it was essential that the resulting organic material would easily break down.

According to the designer, the material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot.

The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product.

The polymer and main ingredient in this case is agar – a jelly-like polysaccharide substance that is extracted from red algae by boiling. Talep adds water as a plasticiser and natural dyes to add gentle colour.

To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80 degrees celsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20 degrees celsius, it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

The bioplastic packaging is especially suited to containing dry food products. It is best sealed with heat rather than glue in a bid make the end result as natural as possible.

As the designer explains, the versatility of the algae-derived material means that it has the potential to generate many different types of bioplastics – some more rigid and others more flexible – just by altering the proportions of polymer, plasticiser and additive in the mixture.

Intended as a replacement for single-use or disposable plastics, Talep’s algae packaging is designed to biodegrade in around two to three months, depending on the thickness of the material and the temperature of the soil.

Despite some bioplastics being criticised for only decomposing in warm temperatures over 30 degrees celsius, Talep insists that, while biodegradation is indeed slower in cooler, winter temperatures, it is not less effective.

The material takes around two months to decompose in summer temperatures, depending on the thickness, and about three to four months to decompose completely in winter. Talep said …

 

“I believe that bio-fabrication will be an important

part of future industries. As long as all the pro-

cesses of extracting these raw materials and their

manufacture are done with environmental awareness.

 

“But it is not enough just to create new materials.

These different solutions to the huge environmental

problem must work in parallel with other action.

 

“Different nations should implement action plans

for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced

by introducing more circular economy projects,

keeping plastic in a cyclical system to prevent it

from ending up at landfill or in the sea.”

 

Designers are increasingly experimenting with bioplastics made from materials as diverse as corn starch and beetle shells.

In a similar project, Italian designer Emma Sicher combined food waste with bacteria and yeasts to create disposable packaging, in a bid to provide a sustainable alternative to plastic.

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Next question:

What can you do, personally, as an individual

who cares about supporting our Earth?

 

The largest distributors of plastic bags are grocery stores. In some instances, bag-buying decisions are made corporately;  in others, it’s delegated to the local manager.  So …

Find one or more biodegradable brands that are available locally. If none show up on your initial survey, perhaps use the links in the article to lead you to some.

Then, talk to the managers of the grocery stores you frequent. They may already know of some locally available brands.  If not, you might offer to help them find some.  Managers – even those of large supermarkets – tend to be very sensitive to expressions of interest from their customers.

If the bag-buying decisions in a large corporate system are only done by the central organization, you can still support your local managers with your expression of interest.

To intensity your effort, you might also mention what you’d like to see happen to others who share your views. If some of them also talk to their local store manager, response from the store – whether within your locality or on a more widespread basis – will be even greater.

Many people bring their own reusable bags to a store.  It helps.  But you have to remember to bring them.  So, the percent of people who do this is far smaller than if the store simply used biodegradable plastic bags in the first place.

If you frequent other businesses that use a lot of plastic bags – such as restaurants that have a strong carry-out business, or retailers selling smaller goods – helping them find a brand of biodegradable plastic bags could make for an easy switch to more Earth-friendly packaging.

Large businesses may be slow to change. But – they do tend to be sensitive to customer interests.  With very little time investment, you could cause a lot of positive change.

Some governments have now legislated the use of biodegradable packaging. If your local government has not done so, and if the system in which you’re living is at all responsive, you might be able to lead even broader change.  You can Google governments who have done so, get copies of their legislation, and share those with your own local government, as models.

The vast majority of our population will support your efforts. And if the cost of bags in virtually the same, resistance from retailers should be minimal.

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