That paper cup you got during your last drive-thru? Yeah, it has plastic too. While the movement against plastic is stronger than ever, not many are aware that much of the paper packaging popularly used today still have a plastic lining, which means it’s not actually biodegradable.
The plastic is added to make paper water-resistant but, obviously, doing so defeats the purpose of using paper packaging in the first place.
This is especially dangerous because I'm sure many people, including myself, buy into anything marketed as “eco-friendly” and “sustainable,” without doing proper research.
Enter Pinyapel, a new product created by material researchers in the Philippines who teamed up to solve that very problem. They produced containers that are 100 percent paper through a process that does not require taking down any trees. Their material of choice? Pineapple leaves.
“Pinyapel,” is a fun portmanteau of the Filipino words pinya (pineapple) and papel (paper). For this, the group became a Wood Pencil Awardee in last month’s D&AD Future Impact Awards in New York City, an annual event that recognizes world-changing projects.
The cups, bags, and paper sheets, are striking for their minimalist aesthetic but, much like with other things, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The paper can be in direct contact with food, making them a viable alternative for food packaging. They also decompose faster than other paper products. According to tests by the Design Center of the Philippines (DCP), Pinyapel reached 55.32 percent mass loss in four weeks, much higher than the 21.33 percent mass loss in commercial paper bags.
This innovation was created by members of private and public organizations including the DCP, an agency affiliated with the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry, Cagayan de Oro Handmade Paper, Nature’s Fresh, and Ideatechs Packaging Corporation.
CDO Handmade Paper Crafts founder Lolita "Luchi" Cabanlet was the one who thought of using pineapple leaves before collaborating with the DCP, which focused on the research and development of products with the goal of putting the country on the international map.
They then tapped Nature's Fresh, a leading supplier of pineapple products, to source discarded pineapple leaves from the company's pineapple farm. From there, Ideatechs Packaging Corp. transformed pineapple sheets into these sustainable packaging products.
Apart from the packaging, CDO Handmade Paper Crafts has also used Pinyapel in some of the decor they make, like stylish light fixtures.
“The ambition of the Pinyapel is to replace the takeaway/take-out food containers and have Pinyapel be part of the compost bin that can be used to re-fertilize the soil and make it richer, so instead of traditional linear economy of taking out from the earth, we are able to give back to the earth and make it richer and healthier, making as responsible stewards of the earth for future generations,” DCP Executive Director Maria Rita O. Matute told VICE.
Apart from creating a plastic alternative, the invention has also helped lessen agricultural waste and has, in turn, given pineapple farmers more livelihood.
Pinyapel prototypes have been showcased in events around the world, but it would be a great step forward for the planet if establishments would start using them already.
Packaging continues to be a major source of plastic pollution, making this innovation all the more important. According to the United Nations, only 9 percent of the world’s plastic waste is actually recycled. This means that the rest are either incinerated, or end up in landfills, in the ocean, or our surroundings.
Sign up for our new Climate Coverage Now newsletter, in which we’ll bring together all of our best climate stories on a bi-weekly basis.