God’s creation is one of the best R&D labs we know. Using technology to emulate nature has resulted in revolutionary innovations that make our lives easier, healthier, and more sustainable: from phones, whose loudspeakers were inspired by human eardrums, to entirely new approaches of creating color inspired by the color-shifting properties of a butterfly’s wings. Called biomimicry, there’s potential for replicating nature’s intelligence to produce packaging that decomposes and is not harmful to the environment.
According to the newly formed conglomerate Biomimicry 3.8, the biomimicry field has changed at a stunning pace over recent years. Biomimicry provides a strategy for practical applications that emulate years of brilliant designs. From durable but biodegradable packaging such as sea beans, large bean pods that ripen to become woody and heavy, or the coconut palm, which dispatches its seed inside a hard shell that contains everything it needs to survive, many of nature’s containers can serve as inspiration for the future’s innovative packaging ideas.
Think of the possibilities if technology of a pelican pouch that scoops three gallons of seawater then returns to shape could be mimicked. A flexible bottle design that fills up like a balloon only to collapse when emptied would provide options for consumers on the go or for easily returning containers for recycling hundreds at a time.
What if we could store precious liquids in a cellular matrix like fruits and vegetables, which are often times more than 90% water but don’t slosh because it’s stored between cells. Or, if we could use a cellular matrix for the skin of a bottle; once emptied it could be eaten like an orange slice or dissolve in the bath tub instead of a landfill.
Nature is filled with wonders that tote, store and protect its treasures from a treacherous world. If we take the time to seek sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns, we can learn from nature that has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with.
Until the day comes that all products are packaged in affordable, durable, biodegradable or recyclable packaging, all we can do is make the best of things. TerraCycle has turned this idea into a very profitable business. Co-founders Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer take packages and materials that are challenging to recycle (such as newsprint, plastic bags, juice pouches and chip bags) and transform them into affordable, high-quality goods, including tote bags, kites, umbrellas and even office supplies like pens and pencils. The upcycling process requires far less energy than recycling and yields much higher amounts of usable material, according to Terracyle’s Albe Zakes.
You can get involved by signing up for free. They will pay you to collect plastic bags, wrappers and packages and send them to TerraCycle using their free shipping bags.
In addition to partnering with Frito-Lay and Mars, Terracycle is just signed deals to develop programs that upcycle packaging from Kimberly Clark’s Huggies and Scott brands and re-purpose material from Aveeno.
While not the solution to the garbage problem, it just goes to show you are only limited by your creativity.
Packaging can be a real waste. How many times have you opened a box within a box or a plastic package within a box, with extra cardboard material inside? This is particularly the case in fragrance packaging. I can understand that the fragrance, usually housed in glass, needs to be protected. However, with consumer awareness continuing to rise, companies are beginning to take some responsibility for their effect on the environment.
Brands like Modern Organic Products and Aveda reinforce an eco-conscious philosophy through their packaging, not just in the colors and labels, but in the materials used. With a diverse range of new sustainable and biodegradable materials that has become available in recent years, the packaging of cosmetics and personal care, including fragrance, finally has a chance to not only look the part but embody a green brand identity, without sacrificing a luxury look. But I believe any brand can make a difference by using some type of premium uncoated paperboard made with post-consumer waste (commonly 80% although some believe the industry eventually will be able to develop a high-quality 100 percent PCW package using a natural binder that allows virgin raw materials to be omitted). Read more about it in GCI‘s February issue.
The “trend” toward sustainable materials has become a necessity, which will lead to further technological advancements for biodegradable packaging that will not sacrifice performance. As consumers, we shouldn’t have to choose between products that do or don’t care about the environment, when options are available. And, for luxury fragrance brands, offering more eco-friendly packaging is a great way to reduce the company’s overall environmental impact and give themselves the opportunity to market an environmental message consumers who are more eco-conscious than ever.