As consumers, one of our greatest superpowers is the freedom of choice. From safari-themed coffee cups and biscuits to toothbrushes, it seems that in just about every consumer category we can’t quite escape the dreaded plastic packaging. And, while recycling is often cited as a solution for plastic pollution, a 2020 report by Greenpeace has confirmed what most of us thought to be true.
“We cannot recycle or compost our way out of the growing plastic pollution problem,” the report states. “Instead of pretending that the trillions of throwaway plastic items produced each year will be recycled or composted, we must stop producing so many of them in the first place.”
While many of us are washing our yoghurt pots for storing ingredients afterwards and reusing our water bottles, ultimately it’s up to brands to cease releasing plastic onto the market and find other packaging solutions. But, while the need for this urgent change to the world’s reliance on plastic may seem overwhelming, it’s important to recognise that small incremental changes are more likely to lead to others that combined can have a wider impact.
“I think sometimes this space can feel a little bit doom and gloom, and we can all have ‘eco-anxiety’ about the state of the world, and so solving and helping people solve this issue in a fun, engaging way that gives people hope rather than makes them feel fearful or despondent,” affirms Josh Howard, Founder of Single Use Ain’t Sexy, an innovative Australian company producing soap tablets to save single-use plastic bottles ending up in landfill.
The switched-on consumer today knows that the best packaging has no plastic at all, which is culturally at odds with what we’ve always associated with luxury purchases. “We’ve been living in a world where packaging equals luxury,” says Ren Clean Skincare CEO Arnaud Meysselle. “Now packaging equals waste. People don’t want it any more.”
In recent years, collaboration has been an underrated factor for sustainable outcomes and yet it’s working in favour of forward-thinking companies – even those with the poorest track records for plastic pollution.
As you’ll see, seaweed, mushrooms and pineapple leaves are just some of the natural resources available to us that perform the same, if not better, than plastic across various industries.
Airlines are notorious for their environmental impact, particularly when it comes to plastic waste. In 2019, Twiice – a small company based in New Zealand – made headlines when its edible biscotti vanilla-flavoured coffee cup was trailed by Air Zealand. The airline was seeking sustainable options at the time and had already brought on board compostable cups in an attempt to reduce the eight million each year that were ending up in landfill. Designed to replace your classic takeaway cup and to be eaten instead of discarded, Twiice’s concept has since been put to the test by cafes across the nation to satisfy people’s thirst for caffeinated beverages and desserts that don’t leave a trace.
Single Use Ain’t Sexy
While it has been proposed that a pill could replace meals in the future, at least in the realm of science fiction, dissolvable hand soap tablets are making soap bars and liquid hand soap seem archaic. Boasting a gender neutral, minimalist aesthetic, a Single Use Ain’t Sexy tablet is simply placed into a reusable glass dispenser along with water that produces a luxurious white foam every time you wash your hands. While many of us are guilty of indulging in a beautifully scented hand wash that comes in a single-use plastic bottle, this revolutionary concept uses tablet refills and a single glass dispenser, which could last a lifetime.
“I think a lot of people want to be more eco-friendly, but don’t necessarily love the hygiene associated with sharing a bar of soap, especially in communal bathroom settings,” explains Howard. “This is probably why we’re finding we’re having quite a bit of success in restaurant bathrooms, hotel bathrooms and corporate office bathrooms.”
Harvesting pineapple, like wheat, generates waste that is either left to rot on farms or is burnt, releasing CO₂ emissions into the atmosphere. With a background in leather goods design and consulting, Founder of Piñatex, Dr Carmen Hijosa, arrived at the idea of developing sustainable leather from the leaves of the pineapple. Based in the Philippines, the fibre is further processed in Spain or Italy to produce coloured leather that’s fit for fashion and upholstery. As a recipient of the 2015 Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards and boasting an impressive list of clients – Hugo Boss, H&M and the Hilton Hotel Bankside – Hijosa’s approach has wide-reaching positive impacts.
“Design is a connecting tool between people, economics and the environment – and out of this communion, understanding and respect, new ideas and products with integrity can come about,” she explains.
While some companies source materials that have already fulfilled their purpose on Earth, others choose to grow them. From beauty and food to leather goods, Ecovative has tapped into the power of mycelium with vertical farms that grow mushroom products at industrial scales. Made from two natural ingredients – hemp hurd and mycelium – Ecovative’s packaging solutions come from and return to nature.
Viva La Body
Shampoo bars, like Ethique’s, have revolutionised the beauty industry by keeping plastic bottles entirely out of the equation. And other companies are following suit. A Darwin-based business run by two artists (Jo and Micko) has taken this concept one step further with Viva La Body. With an array of solid formulations to choose from, every step in your beauty routine is accounted for without the use of plastic.
Some companies are turning to the ocean for plastic-free solutions given that sea plants do not compete with food crops for space. Seaweed, in fact, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – an estimated 173 million metric tons annually.
Seaweed extract is the basis for Notpla’s innovative packaging, a small edible and biodegradable pouch that goes by the name Ooho. Like Twiice cups, these transparent vessels are designed to completely disappear. In 2019 the company partnered with Lucozade Sport, an energy drink that was contained within these pouches and handed out to runners at the London Marathon.
“We use plastic for five minutes, and it ends up in the ocean for 100 years,” explains Pierre Paslier, Co-Founder of Notpla.
Notpla designers have also been creating small scale versions of Ohoo to hold liquids, including toothpaste, sunscreen and thin films for cardboard takeaway boxes.
As Sydney’s first zero-waste, hyperlocal refill delivery service, ReCo ensures that the busiest professional has access to handcrafted, award-winning eco-friendly laundry powder. A US$1.40 (A$2) reward is given for every used glass jar that is swapped for a new one, and it’s entirely up to the customer whether or not they choose to pick up or have their new jar delivered to their doorstep.
One of the most ubiquitous plastic products on the planet is undoubtedly straws that, like coffee cups, are often used once and are then discarded. However, the Blue Carbon Straw by Loliware is a commercial product that’s produced using mineral colour, shell powder and a seaweed blend that decomposes as fast as a banana peel.