National Geographic : 2019 Aug
SOME 174 MILLION tons of plastic packaging is produced globally each year. Only 20 percent of it gets recycled, and what’s not disposed of properly ends up in our environment. Single-use plastic con- tainers and wraps protect food in transit and extend shelf life, but do they really need to last hundreds of years? Designers and engineers who think not are devising alternatives that can be easily cleaned and reused, degrade into compost, or—best yet—disappear as the product is consumed. —ELIZABETH ROYTE REDUCING PLASTIC WASTE FROM FOOD CONTAINERS PHOTOGRAPH BY REBECCA HALE Food packaging that’s not single-use plastic New container materials and forms are advancing from prototype to market. 1. TAKE OUT, TURN IN In a design challenge at New York City’s Pratt Institute, students folded black plastic sheets to make take-out con- tainers that could be returned to a collection point, sanitized, and reused ad infinitum by a consortium of take-out chains. 2. UTENSILS AND ALL Another team in the Pratt challenge used paperboard to make a boxlike food con- tainer with a fold-it-yourself fork-spoon combination that diners tear from a perforated edge. The whole kit would be compostable. 3. ECO-INSULATING Packaged meal-kit services, which ship ingredients for home-cooked meals, are a $3.1 billion market that some analysts expect to increase through at least 2023. Instead of hard-to-recycle or nonrecy- clable bubble film, ice packs, and plastic foam, some kits are cushioned and insulated with liners of heavy paper and ClimaCell, a bio-based foam that can be dissolved to cellu- losic fiber in a pulping plant. CONTAINERS NOT SHOWN: GROWING BOWLS A Swedish institute is testing a compressed, cellulose-based container that could grow with its contents. For example: Soupmakers could fill it with freeze-dried vegetables and spices. As diners add hot water, the container’s origami folds stretch into a fully compostable bowl. MELTING PACKS Thanks to dishwasher and laundry soap “pods,” consumers are used to prod- ucts delivered in transparent ethylene-based polymers that dissolve in water. U.S. and European regulators have pro- nounced the polymers safe for food uses. A U.S. manufacturer says the disappearing pack- aging doesn’t affect food’s texture, smell, or taste. Some protein supplements now come in pods; in the future they may deliver portions of pasta, rice, oatmeal, and other foods cooked with hot water. Learn more about plastic waste and take the pledge to reduce it at natgeo.com/plasticpledge. 1 2 3 EMBARK | PLANET OR PLASTIC? THIS ARTICLE ORIGINATED IN OUR SPONSORED FUTURE OF FOOD DIGITAL SERIES.