November 2010

Green Packaging

Thanks to everyone’s favorite futuristic family, the Jetsons, we all grew up believing that one day, everything we wanted would be delivered to us at the touch of a button. Meals, clothes, even people would simply materialize into our living rooms. Unfortunately, we haven’t quite caught up to our cartoon comrades. However, a few green-savvy companies are taking the initiative to incorporate reusable materials into their latest inventions.

 

Plastic and Styrofoam are notoriously harmful to the environment, but how can we stay hydrated without having to wash dishes? By utilizing recycled paper, agar, rice husks and even mushrooms, inventors are creating single-use containers that mirror the traditional toss-away versions – but with a biodegradable twist.

 

Ecovative (www.ecovativedesign.com) is introducing a packaging material that is similar in structure to Styrofoam but is, in fact, made of fungal mycelium, or as they are more commonly known, mushroom roots. Ecovative founder Gavin McIntyre described this process as filling a mold with “agricultural waste like rice husks or cotton gin discards, add mycelia and within two weeks, the roots have grown to form a dense, lightweight network stronger than Styrofoam and ultimately compostable.” 

 

As it stands, the process currently uses 10 times less energy than it takes to produce traditional foam. Never a company to settle, Ecovative is currently testing a new, even more eco-friendly method, which will utilize a sterilizing mixture of cinnamon-bark oil, thyme oil, oregano oil and lemongrass oil. This means that by the time these products hit the market in 2012, not only will the process use less than one-fortieth the energy of traditional Styrofoam production, but people will be able to grow their own packing material from the comfort of their own homes! According to McIntyre, "People could do it in their kitchens. With a process like this, you can mix a couple components together, and it's really like baking bread.”

 

The people at The Way We See the World (www.thewayweseetheworld.com) see plastic cups as a thing of the past, and their edible gelatin cups as the future. Chelsea Briganti, one quarter of The Way We See the World team, says of the agar material, “It's slightly rubbery, very soft." The company even coined the term “Jelloware" to describe its product. However, unlike their namesake, these cups will not get sticky. In fact, they’re flavored to complement a variety of beverages. Currently, the glasses can only be used for cold drinks, but a heat-resistant version is in the works. Once these glasses hit the market, you will have the option of either eating the sugary faux glass or tossing it into the compost where it will decompose in less than a week.

Packing and shipping are notoriously difficult on the environment. Plastic wrap, fuel emissions and those dreaded Styrofoam peanuts are major earth offenders. So how, in today’s tech-driven society, where Internet shopping is a way of life, can we get what we need without sacrificing convenience and the environment? Why PaperNuts®, of course, made from 100 percent recycled materials that are both biodegradable and reusable. PaperNuts (www.papernuts.com) provide the same product protection as polystyrene or starch packing peanuts, but without the pollution, particulates or pests. That’s right, pests. Rodents have been known to gnaw through boxes, damaging items, to get to those tasty starchy peanuts, meaning not only are traditional packing peanuts bad for the environment, they are just plan unsanitary! 

So, unlike George, Jane, Judy and Elroy, we don’t yet have fancy flying cars or insta-turkey dinners, but we do have a lot of great, up-and-coming inventions that are paving the way to a greener future. And who knows, if we remain dedicated to preserving the Earth, one day, we might just get our very own Rosie the Robot.