Conscious packaging: Swapping plastic for seaweed

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For environmentally conscious travellers, conventional packaging in hotels and restaurants has long been an uncomfortable issue. With some 400 million tonnes of it produced globally each year – from plastic water bottles and one-use containers to wraps for toiletries and food – there’s a growing movement to reduce the food and packaging waste that contributes to greenhouse gases.

It’s another urgent issue, for food waste emits toxic methane from landfill sites, and one to two tonnes of carbon dioxide is released for every tonne of packaging, according to The Economist. Single use and disposable plastic is a particularly worrying issue, with the USA reportedly using over 500 million plastic straws each day.

Some help is at hand. Eco-friendly packaging solutions range from innovative ‘laser labels’ printed on vegetables such as sweet potatoes, avocados and coconuts instead of plastic wrapping, to turning food waste such as mushroom fungus, kelp, milk and tomato peels into food packaging or bioplastics.

Ecovative, a design company in New York state, are growing mushroom (mycelium) fungus which can be moulded into material to protect bottles and then composted for the garden, while British start-up, Skipping Rocks Lab, have developed Ohoo – a product made from edible seaweed that can be used to make water-tight containers for liquids using an onsite machine.

More than 200 billion Tetra Rex drinks cartons have been produced by Brazilian company Braskem, their ‘plastic’ derived from sugar cane grown on degraded pastures and mixed with paperboard, while cosmetics company Lush are now wrapping their shower wash bars in soluble ‘soap paper’ – inventively made from melon puree and soap flakes.

Perhaps the biggest splash is the NaturALL Bottle Alliance from California-based Origin Materials, in a joint venture with the world’s two largest bottled water companies, Danone and Nestlé Waters. A plastic bottle made from recycled cardboard and sawdust, it is due for release in 2018, and so could be in eco-conscious hotels and restaurants within a year.

All that said – if water and spa products still have to be shipped half way round the world to reach a hotel, then the transportation needed means they’re only contributing to greenhouse gases another way.

Who will be the first hotel (group) to achieve zero packaging? What an achievement that would be…

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