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Sustainable Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic Packaging Should Be Everywhere

With the likes of mushroom wrap and sugar-cane plastic, the list of environmentally-friendly alternatives is growing longer. So why is plastic still so widespread?

by Edoardo Liotta
13 June 2019, 10:05am

Photos from Unsplash.

Plastic is literally plaguing our earth - and there’s proof of it everywhere. Take for example the dead animals found with trash-filled stomachs, the island of garbage in the Pacific ocean or the bee nests made out of plastic. And the cause of all this? Humans and their strange need to wrap and box everything in multiple layers of the toxic material.

One of the most widespread uses of plastic is single-use packaging. Whether it’s vegetables in the supermarket or our favourite beauty products, they are likely to be wrapped or boxed what is usually a non-biodegradable material. And if not disposed of correctly, will end up becoming nothing more than a pollutant in our natural environment.

Some companies have started changing the status quo, however, and are coming up with sustainable ways of presenting our favourite products in an environmentally friendly manner.

Here are some to look out for:

Sugar-Cane Plastic

Across the globe, instant noodles provide snackers an easy escape from sudden cravings. They have essentially become an international language in themselves. And even the most health-conscious of us have probably caved for a bite of the accessible, easy and tasty box of paradise. But unfortunately, they are not as delicious for the environment as they are for us. Why? Packaging. First, the noodles are in a plastic cup. Then, the sauces are in plastic packages, and then the entire thing is wrapped in another layer of plastic wrap. Unnecessary.

Japan’s Nissin Food Holdings, that produces the ubiquitous Cup Noodles, is reportedly producing a plant-derived plastic for its products. Containers are currently made of 70% paper, while the remaining 30% is a non-biodegradable petrochemical material. Nissin plans to cut the petrochemical content in half, and replace it with biomass polyethylene resin derived from sugar cane.

Mushroom Packaging for Mushrooms

It might seem a little meta, but what better way to package mushrooms, than with mushrooms? Although experimented with before, most recently, Meadow Mushrooms, a family-owned grower in Christchurch, New Zealand, is trialling new packaging for their mushrooms made from mushrooms. The material is reportedly breathable, which keeps the mushrooms fresh for longer. It also leverages the fungi’s ability to absorb moisture, which protects the product inside. For instance, if placed in a moist environment like a refrigerator, the packaging will swell as it absorbs the water particles, without losing strength and form.

The packaging can also be used for other products, so you might be seeing more of your favourite vegetables hugged by fungus wrap soon. Yay!

Banana Leaves In Supermarkets

With this packaging, Southeast Asia made a mark with its creative, natural and cost-effective solution to plastic pollution. Supermarkets in Bali, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam started using banana leaves to wrap fresh produce. Banana leaves are native to the entire region, so what these supermarkets are doing is not only a literal take on green packaging, but a practice that uses a resource that is already so abundant locally. Therefore, there wouldn’t be a need to set up new manufacturing processes to create the product, which is necessary for some of the other alternatives.

Colgate’s Recyclable Toothpaste Tube

Squeezing toothpaste out of a tube is an act most of us take for granted. But here’s a lesser known fact: In order to get the optimal texture and density for toothpaste delivery, scientists had to combine a mix of plastic laminate and aluminium, making the tubes impossible to recycle. Imagine the number of these tubes each person goes through in the course of their life. It comes as a relief then that Colgate has finally found an alternative.

Initially, Colgate tried to work with high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a commonly used already recycled plastic used for bottles. However, it was too rigid to make a tube out of it that was soft and squeezable. So they tested dozens of combinations of layerings of HDPE until they found a way to make the material squeezable. Their design also became the first oral and personal care tube to earn recognition from the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR).

As these options start to hit the shelves, we are reminded that there are plenty of alternatives to plastic that everyone could be opting for. But we shouldn’t only rely on corporations to answer to pressing environmental issues. Sure, the more alternatives produced, the merrier, but there are plenty of things we can do as individuals as well. We can refuse packaged items, and opt for sustainable alternatives. Or we could even try living a zero-waste life, and make a lot of the products we use at home from scratch.

We need to believe that what we do as individuals goes a long way in sending corporations the right message, that sustainability is not just a trend nor a choice, but a way of life that should be the norm.

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