Rethinking plastic packaging: From mushrooms to seaweed, nature’s materials offer a way forward

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“We just have to do what nature has always done. It worked out the secret of life long ago. In this world, a species can only thrive when everything else around it thrives too. We can solve the problems we now face by embracing this reality. If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us. It’s now time for our species to stop simply growing, and instead to establish a life on our planet in balance with nature — to start to thrive.”

David Attenborough, A Life on Our Plane

No longer a nice to have, sustainability should be at the top of everyone’s agenda. With plastic packaging taking at least 450 year to disintegrate in nature, and microplastics spread across all parts of our world, it seems incomprehensible that any brand would continue to use unsustainable packaging materials. Biomaterials is an area that interests us and we’ve identified products and brands doing interesting work that we think are worth exploring.

Mycelium: not your humble mushroom

We recently wrote about sustainable luxury candle brand AMEN’s new packaging made from mycelium. Haeckels is another brand with strong sustainability credentials that is working with the same supplier, biotechnology start-up Grown, to produce their candle packaging. Mycelium, the root system of mushrooms, is grown in a mould designed by Grown, intertwining with agricultural waste such as sawdust, flax and hemp husks. Acting like a glue, the mycelium eventually binds everything together, and once dried becomes a lightweight, fire resistant material. Able to withstand impact, it makes perfect packaging for fragile objects such as ceramics, glassware and candles. The company Grown also considers the second life of the packaging, and can design it to be used as a bowl, coaster or a vase, before eventually being composted in your garden. 

Recycled paper with wildflower seeds

As part of their candle packaging, Haeckels also use a paper made from recycled paper pulp mixed with wild flower seeds, which can be planted in the garden in Spring and Summer providing food for local birds and insects. As part of the second lockdown in the UK, Browns of Brockley recently did a campaign, providing a voucher for a free coffee for local residents. Printed on recycled paper with wildflower seeds, it was a feel good campaign that cheered up the local community but will continue to bring joy next year. Simply torn once redeemed, customers have been encouraged to plant the leaflets in their local area.

Bioplastics: Utilising nature’s materials

Materiom is a great resource for anyone interested in plant-based packaging. Providing open data on how to make materials, they provide advice on creating and selecting materials sourced from locally abundant biomass and ensuring a regenerative circular economy.

A designer doing interesting work in this sector is Clara Davis. Clara is a French-American textile designer researching biomaterials and new technologies in the fashion sector. We recently came across her BioBags, an environmental project looking at ways to replace plastic bags with biodegradable materials. Her BioBags are made with a bioplastic that is completely biodegradable, taking about one week to dissolve in the water. You can have a go at making your own BioBag with recipes from Materiom and using Clara’s DIY pattern.

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