Are Packaging Items Made from Mushrooms and Corn Husks Gimmicks or Godsends?

by Jeff Giedt

Faced with the high embodied energy costs of conventional single use packaging products and the accumulation of packaging garbage on the planet, many businesses are searching for greener solutions. Although increasing numbers of consumers say that they would prefer to purchase green products, many are unwilling to compromise their expectations of the product. Frito-Lay’s compostable Sun Chips bag was a failure in the United States because it made too much noise.

Let us take a look at a couple of alternative packaging concepts that have been creating a buzz lately, and see if that buzz is justified or just more packaging noise.

Ecovative Design of Green Island, New York offers packaging items made from mushrooms as an alternative to packaging. They produce their EcoCradle packaging by adding mushroom roots to organic plant waste in a mold. As they digest the waste, the roots take the shape of the mold. The result is a viable Styrofoam alternative which contains no petroleum products, does not repurpose a potential food source and can be composted at home. Ecovative claims that their packaging is cost-competitive, stating “For most of our customers, we’ve been able to provide something that costs them the same or not much more…” The principle drawback seems to be that the packaging items made from mushrooms are denser and heavier than conventional Styrofoam packaging.

Packages made from cornhusks are another alternative that is attracting some attention, most famously PepsiCo’s one hundred percent plant based plastic bottle.

The bottle is made of PET, a conventional plastic for bottles that consumers are already used to. The challenge that Pepsi met was to make a PET bottle, which normally is composed of fossil fuels, from plant material. Pepsi plans to further develop the technology to the point where the bottles can be made of waste from their food business. Like conventional PET, the bottle is not biodegradable and cannot be composted. The best possible end of life scenario for the bottle is down-cycling into a non-recyclable product such as polyester. It is a legitimate and useful innovation, but their research and development budget might have been better spent on a marketing campaign to promote returnable glass bottles.

While reusable packaging may be the greenest option of all, it is often impractical. The development of more eco-friendly disposable packaging is helping to provide a solution for those situations where reusable is not an option. One notable adopter of green packaging solutions is Dell. In addition to shipping heavy items like servers protected by Ecovative’s EcoCradle, they have turned to bamboo packaging for shipping of more lightweight products. Proctor and Gamble is shipping Gillette razors in plant-based trays.

As the technology develops and awareness increases, we will find that green packaging is here to stay. And thankfully, it will not hang around long enough to outlast the conventional packaging it replaces.

About the Author
Jeff Giedt is vice president and general manager of Pioneer Packaging in Phoenix, Arizona. Pioneer Packaging is a division of the Heritage Pioneer Corporate Group , a leading supplier of corrugated containers, packaging materials and automated systems, with 16 locations across the western United States.

Comments

  1. Good article highlighting new packaging applications along with the pro’s and con’s of these materials. Market forces will ultimately drive what succeeds. I am on board with Jeff’s statement that “green packaging is here to stay”. However, his closing statement that “thankfully it will not hang around long enough to outlast the conventional packaging it replaces”, is discouraging. Conventional materials have been and will continue to be a viable packaging solution. As packaging professionals and entrepreneurs, we should not stop innovation. We should pursue new solutions allowing the marketplace and consumers drive which materials and technologies succeed. It is a slippery slope thinking that packaging industry already has all the answers and new approaches will not replace materials and technology already in place.

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