Each year households in the U.S. send over 270 million tons of trash to the landfill, and much of this waste comes from packaging. This is a glaring problem, which is why each week we’ll be exploring how to make packaging greener and cleaner, by examining natural models for packaging, new innovations in packaging design, and ways in which we can improve how packaging is created and used. Read on for our first installation, and stay tuned for this new series every Thursday on Inhabitat!
The Coconut – Nature’s Best Packaging Design
The humble and tropically ubiquitous coconut, besides producing one of the tastiest cocktail starters out there (mmmm…..piña coladas!), is one the best package design solutions for a perishable food item ever designed by nature. Not only do coconuts survive falling from heights of 50 feet to the ground (landing on anything from cushy golf courses to lava rock), but they often travel thousands of miles via ocean waves, still perfectly protected. Viable Caribbean coconuts, which are the seeds of the Coconut palm, have been found as far north as Norway, which is why the tree has propagated so successfully from 26 latitude North to 26 degrees latitude South.
The waterproof, super tough coco-container is impervious to hard knocks, salt and heat, and it keeps its electrolyte-rich interior water fresh and coconut meat cargo protected and ready-to-consume (or take root and grow). All of this in a totally biodegradable package produced with free energy from the sun, water and (sometimes minimal) locally available soil nutrients.
This is just one example of a packaging ‘problem’ that nature has solved so well, while we have…plastic, which is made from nonrenewable petroleum products, pollutes air and water when it’s made (including our food supply ), takes thousands (and thousands) of years to degrade, and then just ends up breaking into bits, not actually breaking down. Plastic even pollutes when it’s recycled! (Though yes, it’s still better to throw it in the blue bin than in the trash).
And with the news filled with reports of birds’ stomachs packed full of with-us-forever plastics and a Texas-sized garbage gyre choking the Pacific (actually it turns out there are 5 such state-sized patches of ocean filled with our trash), it seems like the time to find better packaging solutions was yesterday. Or maybe around the same time Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate was told the future was in plastics. Unfortunately for us – and our environment – it was.
While it’s great to make cool stuff from discarded water bottles, we need better packaging solutions, and we need them now. Something more than using coconut shells for candle-holders or cute bowls for sorbet.
Look for these innovative and almost-as-smart as nature packaging solutions coming up in this space. Because we need to put our stuff in better stuff.
Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (MNN.com)