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When it comes to innovative packaging materials, there's no greater master than nature


Reports that Ikea is considering using mushroom-based packaging to replace polystyrene have a much greater significance than to underline the furniture retailer’s sustainability credentials.

It’s certainly true that the use of mycelium (mushroom roots) packaging is a more eco-friendly option – it biodegrades naturally in a matter of weeks, unlike polystyrene that is difficult to recycle. It also self assembles. The tiny fibres that make up mycelium are allowed to grow around clean agricultural waste such as corn stalks or husks, to form solid forms.

According to Ikea, this offers the added advantage of being able to create bespoke packaging products as it can grow into a mould that fits exact requirements. It might prove to be a win-win situation for the Swedish firm. However, at a wider level it brings into focus just how innovative packaging designed from natural materials can be. 

Manufacturers have long realised there really is no greater master than nature. For example, coconut husks are being processed for internal packaging use. Coconut fibre is combined with thermoplastic to produce a compostable but sturdy and lightweight material.

Sheep’s wool is similarly being used for high performance internal packaging for delivering perishables and pharmaceutical products. According to Woolcool, its natural insulating properties keeps food chilled for longer than conventional materials such as polystyrene or polyethylene, and can better meet cold chain requirements for medicines in transit. The all round snugness of wool also prevents damage to fragile contents. 

However, the best bit? It’s hardly a substance in short supply. Grape waste is also now being utilised by champagne house Veuve Clicquot to produce gift boxes branded under the Naturally Clicquot label.

In a groundbreaking move, grape skins from the champagne production process are crushed, refined and made into a fine powder before being combined with recycled paper to produce a cardboard casing that is 100 per cent recyclable and biodegradable. It is the latest generation of eco friendly packaging manufactured by the luxury brand. Earlier Clicquot containers designed in 2013 and 2014 were made from potato starch and paper. The result was not only functional (the packaging was isothermal so it could keep your bubbly cool for up to two hours outside a fridge), but also very pleasing to the eye.

Aesthetics can certainly play an important part, especially when it comes to food packaging. What could look more natural and appealing than eggs packed in cartons made from hay? Designer Maja Szczypek uses a heat press to mould cut hay to mimic the shape and fit of traditional egg cartons, a hugely innovative, green and eye catching solution. 

Compostable packaging is all very well but the breaking up process still takes time. For the impatient among us there is the ‘vanishing packing’. M&S has been using a corn starch-based product called Plantic for chocolate box trays in its Swiss Chocolate range for a number of years. The tray breaks down when it becomes moist. So it can either be put outside on a garden compost heap for three weeks - or be dissolved under water in just a matter of minutes. 

Now that’s thinking outside the box.

Is your company interested in exploring more natural options in its packaging?

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