Packed Sustainably. Materials of the Future.

To make a better future, we need to rethink our use of materials in a sustainable way. Today’s materials are not necessarily those of tomorrow. Instead of always turning to plastics, it is time we look elsewhere. Which alternatives are there and how can they be used for packaging?

For this piece, we’ve gathered examples of innovative materials for packaging. Each material has pros and cons depending on your situation. But perhaps, these materials can inspire you and help us all build a better and more sustainable future.

Hemp. Once used by Levi Strauss and Henry Ford, it seems like hemp is having a renaissance. New brands like Hemp Eye Wear and Hempea use hemp for their products. Easy to grow, even in poor soil and without the need for pesticides, it presents a durable and eco-friendly alternative source that only needs half the amount of water compared to cotton.

Mushrooms. In 2007, Ecovative developed a mushroom packaging. They grow mycelium structures into high performing packaging solution, cost-competitive with conventional foams, and 100% home compostable. Some even use it for textiles!

Shellfish shells. Fermenting shellfish shells sound like a fancy dish but it is actually a way of extracting chitin from the shells of langoustine. Chitin is used for creating compostable plastic in which food can be wrapped and make it last longer. Scottish start-up Cuantec has developed a technique which makes harsh chemicals and high temperatures obsolete.

Coffee grounds. German company Kaffee Form has brought coffee grounds into a circular economy. What is often thrown away at cafés and roasteries across Berlin is now being collected at selected locations and recycled into the material Kaffeeform. Then that is turned into coffee cups – ready for the divine brown liquid.

Wood. UK-based coffee roaster and supplier Lost Sheep Coffee has released a new range of compostable coffee capsules. The pods are made from lignin, a substance derived from wood bark and a waste product of the paper processing industry. They will compost in a matter of weeks and keep your coffee fresh for over 12 months despite the absence of plastic seals and glue, claims the firm.

Cork. British cosmetics company Lush is a strong advocate of being environmentally friendly. Their innovative cork pots help consumers become carbon-positive and enjoy their products at the same time. Cork is a “non-timber forest product” and once the material has been harvested to trees are left for it to regrow. The result is a packaging that is 100% natural, reusable and biodegradable.

Bioplastic skin. Icelandic design studio @10 experiments in developing materials that can solve social and environmental issues. Their ‘Bioplastic Skin’ is a biodegradable packaging for meat made out of the skin of the animal itself. The product helps reduce the use of plastic in the food industry. By boiling the skin, it releases collagen and gelatinous material forms. Once dry it has a texture similar to plastic.

Bacterial cellulose. Using water and a bacteria and yeast culture, designer Elena Amato has created sheets of bacterial cellulose with paper-like qualities. The packaging material is intended for personal care products. By using leftovers from local kombucha producers, she has developed a sustainable alternative to plastic packaging. Natural pigments give colour and the material can be glued together using water.