By Brittany Shutts
In light of this past Friday’s Earth Day, one of the most significant things you can do for the planet is to cut the excess plastic out of your life. It is detrimental to the health of humans and wildlife and piles up in U.S. landfills and oceans. Several companies are making a forward-thinking effort to cut back on plastic usage. They are eliminating packaging overkill and even replacing plastics with innovative biodegradable materials. (See last week’s Operation Trashdown for links to reduce, reuse, and recycle!)
Companies like Ford are investing in a groundbreaking alternative to plastic that comes from a surprising source: mushrooms. The material was designed by Ecovative and has been used since 2007. It is formed by growing mushrooms in agricultural by-products like corn, oat, or seed husks, producing a waterproof and fireproof mushroom foam solid that is completely biodegradable. Ford has plans to use the foam to eventually replace petroleum-based plastics in the bumper, side doors, and dashboard. Polymers made from mushrooms are also being used to form a new packing material to replace Styrofoam, which takes up a quarter of U.S. landfills.
Packaging poses a pressing environmental dilemma. Products that are ordered online tend to be buried in almost comical amounts of packaging. It is typical to receive a cardboard box containing a cardboard box full of Styrofoam and yards of bubble wrap. One reader at the Consumerist submitted a slideshow of the excessive packaging that his ink cartridges arrived in. The cartridges were wrapped in bubble wrap inside of individual boxes. The boxes were supported by a foam casing inside of a larger box, which was inside of a larger box. He says, “UPS could have dropped it into my backyard from an airplane, and it would have been fine.” You can see the images on the Consumerist’s website.
Amazon’s packaging initiative seeks to trim off the excess and ship products with more minimalistic packaging. If you’ve recently ordered a book of off Amazon, you may have noticed that there is only piece of cardboard and a layer of plastic separating you from the book. The initiative cuts out the “clamshell cases” and the pesky, plastic-coated wires that we traditionally untwist on Christmas morning. New software fits the product into the right size box with the right amount of packaging.
Frito-Lay attempted a switch to compostable bags for SunChips in a commendable attempt to reduce waste. The bags were made of potato peels, a material that would otherwise be discarded. The initiative met with the resistance of consumers who complained about the amount of noise the bags made, so SunChips went back to the original plastic bag. Frito-Lays’ latest biodegradable bag crinkles at the same 70 decibels as the plastic, pleasing the persnickety potato chip enthusiasts.
Are you feeling inspired to partake in this plastic purge? Perhaps you’ve already adopted the habit of bringing your own reusable bags to the supermarket and you want to take the next step. If you haven’t already made the switch to reusable water bottles, there are more options available than ever. Many people are put off by the metallic taste of stainless steel water bottles. Takeya and Lifefactory produce glass water bottles in silicone sleeves (reminiscent of Crocs) to make them more practical and resistant to breakage. You can find these glass bottles at Whole Foods, the Container store, and on Amazon.
Another way you can help keep plastic out of landfills is by avoiding products with excessive packaging. Rather than buying individually wrapped prunes packaged like candy for the sake of convenience, you can carry them around in a reusable container or bag that you can wash out at the end of the day. Avoid buying bananas in plastic bags and pre-wrapped cucumbers, sweet potatoes, and corn cobs. If you opt for fresh produce without the unnecessary packaging, the producers pre-wrapped fruits and vegetables will eventually take the hint.
Image courtesy of paxarcana.wordpress.com.