The Rise of Packaging Alternatives
The Rise of Packaging Alternatives.
“For decades, shopper have been sold the lie that we can’t live without plastic in food and drink.” – Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet.
✎ Kat Guerrero
In a society that largely values upward movement, material wealth, and a go-go-go mentality, convenience and efficiency is key. We see this manifestation of convenience in how we acquire new belongings (Amazon two-day shipping anyone?), how we connect with people via phone (yep, we’re throwing Tinder under the bus) and the air of superiority that often comes with the term ‘I’m busy.’ We also see this rampant abuse of convenience and efficiency in how we interact with pre-packaged foods.
Take a few moments to think about the concept of packaging food in materials like plastic and Styrofoam. Single-use packaging is what we know – it’s what those delicious noodles from the Chinese take-out spot are served in, it’s what most supermarket goodies are packaged in and it’s, well, to be expected.
If the point of packaging food is to preserve it, one would believe that materials like glass would be prioritised because they maintain the taste and freshness for a longer period. After all, before plastic was introduced, society had to find ways to preserve foods for the long-term. Our predecessors used glass, aluminium, foil and clay pots to preserve food. They ate seasonally, purchased meats wrapped in paper and filled up paper bags with dried foods.
Eating locally and using alternative packaging materials sounds easy enough – but what does this look like on a larger scale, especially in a metropolitan environment? Especially in a society where plastic packaging is ingrained into how we eat, what we wear and how we move through the world?
Simple – it looks like a blend of innovative thinking and sidelined packaging techniques. Thought leaders, start-ups and restaurants in Australia, and worldwide, are beginning to champion packaging alternatives not only because they are more environmentally friendly, but because they just make sense.
Welcome to the age of packaging alternatives
Packaging alternatives are defined as any method of packing that is environmentally friendly and sustainable. This can include recycled materials, beeswax wraps, glass, aluminium and paper. The appeal in these alternative lies in their usability and versatile nature.
We invite you to take a gander at the projects and initiatives that have caught our attention over the past few years, some Melbourne-based, some international, but all are projects heading in the right direction. From social projects to physical creations to business models, the age of packaging alternatives is just beginning!
Returnr isn’t just a product - it’s a strategic integration of reusable containers to popular cafes that makes using Returnr packaging incredibly convenient.
Here’s the pitch: offer aluminium packaging for a small deposit at any participating cafe. Once it’s rinsed, return it to any cafe (10 and counting) in the network and have your deposit refunded. Or if you want to keep the container, reuse it to your hearts content.
Returnr harnesses the power of the reuse and pooling economy in a small Melbourne area. We see it as a test project. Once Retunr gets up and running, we expect to see the model repeated through the greater Melbourne area and hopefully on a larger scale.
What’s cool about Returnr? They take end of life responsibility for each of their products. Returnr is also the brainchild of Jamie Forsyth, founding partner of Keep Cup, so we feel confident in his mission. We’ve also heard some whispers that Returnr is partnering with Ubereats...
Waste-free stores are more of a social movement than anything. Instead of offering singularly packaged items, waste-free stores are proponents of bulk bins and refillable vessels like mason jars and mesh produce bags. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ran a study that concluded that containers and packaging equated to 23% of landfill waste. We can only assume that Australia has the same, if not a higher number.
In a waste-free store, products don’t come in individual wrappers. Instead, the stores offer a variety of loose product that allows a customer to buy exactly what they need.
Since food production isn’t at a place to fully become packaging free, most waste-free stores order items that are packaged in a large plastic bag. There still may be packaging waste happening behind the scenes, but the effect is minuscule when compared to traditional markets.
As the poster-child of usable and dare-we-say trendy ‘packaging alternatives,’ Keep Cup is a staple in cafes throughout Australasia and internationally. For such a simple idea, Keep Cup has played an instrumental role in reducing disposable cups and encouraging people to invest in a product that is useful for any stage of their life.
Keep Cup is a product that facilitates reuse because of how it’s designed and it’s global accessibility. While the company does use plastic, they claim that utilising plastic intelligently is a stepping stone to fully sustainable plastic. We hope to see KeepCup transitioning away from plastic, but applaud Keep Cup’s approach to banishing single-use packaging, one cup at a time.
The goal? To eliminate disposable food packaging waste. The method? Offer quality-made, aesthetically pleasing glass packaging that’s worth the investment.
BeetBox is another simple, yet genius idea. By providing well-made, durable bowls designed for on-the-go people, Beet Box taps into a community of commuters, business folks and students who take their food from home or stop at a cafe for a quick bite. The design hasn’t gone unnoticed - the company was awarded a Good Design Award Gold Winner by Good Design Australia.
For a city of almost 5 million, there’s bound to be some innovators and change-makers walking the streets of Melbourne. We’re lucky to be able to see these businesses in action while observing and interacting with the changing approach to living sustainably in an urban setting.
The concept of Moroccan Soup Bar is simple. Eat in or BYOC. Bring your own containers if you want to take food away. And for those that forgot their container? There’s special Moroccan Soup Bar takeaway containers available for purchase and swap.
The method allows for the restaurant to simultaneously cater to their cult-like following, encourage social responsibility and avoid compromising their impact on the environment.
It would be incredibly easy for other restaurants to adopt the BYOC practice. In addition to cutting to-go packaging costs, if more restaurants implemented a BYOC rule, traveling with personal food containers would quickly normalise. We’re talking about a shift in social mindset by making the act of grabbing lunch a little more sustainable.
Boost Juice, a smoothie chain known and loved in Australia and New Zealand for their fresh and natural smoothies have over 467 stores. So when they introduced paper straws and reusable cups to their business model as part of a ‘green’ Christmas campaign, they reached a diverse and large population that were already hooked on Boost’s products. Introducing reusable cups and paper straws isn’t a groundbreaking move - but when large, established companies decide to incorporate sustainable swaps, such as paper straws, the impact can be immeasurable.
Boost Juice is a great example of a large company with community values taking a step towards a more sustainable future. By normalising reusable cups in a fast food setting, Boost Juice is setting a precedent that similar franchises should meet.
Keep an eye out for interviews and follow-up pieces about some of these businesses. We’re stoked to be able to contribute our part to encourage individuals to take initiative and action with their packaging choices.
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We’re taking applications from our diverse community to contribute to co-designing an essential micro-range of products right for them. Get involved in upcoming events and workshops covering wellness, self-care and design.