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Sustainable Innovations to Help Preserve Our World, Part 2 of a Multi-Part Series: Alternative Plastic Packaging

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Synthetic plastic derived from fossil fuels was invented in 1907 but only began being mass-produced and widely used around the mid-20th century. Since then, approximately eight billion tons of plastic have been produced. Unfortunately, it was only until many decades later that we realized the harmful effects of plastic on the environment. Recycling is not enough to tackle this issue, and we need to reduce plastic use and develop new eco-friendly polymers.

Scientists from Harvard University and Nanyang Technological University have developed a sustainable, biodegradable food packaging material that looks just like clear plastic but can get rid of harmful microbes to enhance food safety and extend shelf-life. “The natural packaging is made from corn protein. It releases antimicrobial compounds when there is additional humidity or bacteria. This helps to extend the food's shelf life and retain its original flavor.”

Driven by consumers’ awareness of the environmental impact of single-use plastic packaging, many researchers and companies are changing to more sustainable product packaging. The Finland-companies Metgen and Paptic are promoting sustainable wood based-alternative packaging to replace plastic. Metgen’s researchers developed a technology that won the Innovation Radar Prize 2021. “One particular solution aims to replace the petrochemical-based coating used in cardboard packaging.” “It’s similar to paper, made of sustainable wood fibers.” “This is Paptic, twice as strong as paper, but 50% thinner and water-resistant.”

Evoware produces edible food packaging like the Ello Jello cup from seaweed. The Ello Jello cup is vegan and gluten-free. It comes in several different flavors, contains a lot of nutrition from seaweed, and is free of chemicals, gelatin, and preservatives. In the United Kingdom, a company called Oceanium also makes various products from seaweed, including sustainable bio-packaging. “Unlike ordinary crops, it doesn't need land, fresh water, insecticide, or fertilizer to grow. It sequesters 1 ton of carbon per hectare a year as it grows. It creates a sanctuary for marine life.”
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