Scientists predict that we have only 12 years to make environmental changes until the earth reaches a point of no return. Environmental protection has been a hot topic for quite awhile now, but if this is the case then why has no real change been made? Having supported their opinions with facts, scientists have stated their warnings multiple times, yet we still continue to practice activities that are harming the environment. Each year humans produce 300 million tons of plastic waste, of which only 8.4%is recycled. So where does the remaining 250 million tons end up? Unfortunately the only other options are landfills, where it will sit for 1000 years until it decomposes, or in the ocean, adding on to the already huge trash pile. A majority of this trash comes from consumer items, and society needs to invest in alternative options that can be created affordably and made widely available.

Several companies have already discovered ways to package everyday consumer items in a more sustainable way. One of those companies, Ooho, has developed a new way to package water. Being the biggest contributor to plastic waste, bottled water is a common household essential that everyone buys, despite its negative effect on the environment. Ooho creates a solution to the plastic bottles: an edible film that is made out of seaweed extract. Not only is it environmentally friendly but it is also cost effective. The cost to make a 250 ml edible bubble is 2 cents, whereas it cost 73 cents to produce 250 ml of bottled water. Even if they decide to use the extreme insane markup as bottled water companies do, the price to consumers will be lower than that of bottled water. This technology has yet to hit the market and it is still looking for investors to give it that final push. When looking into the future, it is also a possibility that this technology can be used for any drink or liquid in general. Coca Cola and Pepsi, which are two of the companies with the most plastic waste, could use the edible bubble technology on any of their drinks and this would incredibly drop the amount of plastic waste produced from plastic water bottles. What society needs to do is take this current technology and apply it to other items.

Another company, called Soapbottle, has eliminated the plastic waste created by any liquid hygiene product. They created a packaging idea that allows everyday items like shampoo and conditioner to be packaged in containers made from soap, which can be used when the product is gone. The Soapbottle concept can be used any any liquid hygiene product, which covers a multitude of items. Just like the edible bubble for water, this product has yet to be released to the market and is still in the development stage. As shown by this company, many everyday consumer items can be placed in a packaging that relates to the product in a way that makes the packaging itself usable. The solution to packaging these items may seem complicated, but really it’s pretty simple and just involves a bit of creativity.

When considering sustainable packaging for consumer items, most people often only think of the packaging of the actual item, not any packing that goes into the shipment of the product. In an era that heavily endorses online shopping, any waste used in the packaging for mailing an item is equally important to consider as any packaging the individual item has. Expanded polystyrene, or styrofoam, is an item commonly used in shipment, but it also happens to be the fourth largest contributor to all plastic waste. This seems to create a large issue because all consumer products are either sent to a retailer or directly to the consumer, which requires a lot of packaging. Planning ahead, scientists have already created an alternative tostyrofoam: molded pulp. Made from 100% recycled paper, molded pulp is sustainable packaging that is biodegradable but still maintains the integrity of the product it is protecting. Not only does it make packaging simpler, but it also stays at a stable cost, allowing it to be cost-effective. This item is already in use today, but not nearly as mainstream as it should be.

As all of these businesses and items prove, the solution to consumer packaging waste has already been created. The biggest issue with any environmental change is money, however many of these ideas are cost effective. Our next step is looking into how to make these items more available to the everyday consumer while also keeping them at reasonable cost. The future of sustainable packaging already exists, it’s just up to us to change the trend and make it more mainstream.

Essay by: Emma Kinnunen
Arizona State University

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