A Japanese design company developed an earth-friendly way to package goods using seaweed.
Have you ever considered how much plastic you might be responsible for wasting? If you’re the average American, you’re likely to throw away an astonishing 185 pounds of plastic per year. Worse, 50% of the plastic that ends up in landfills and the oceans was only used once before it was discarded. Only 5% of what’s tossed into the trash is every recovered, and that’s dismal considering its effect on the environment.
Because plastic, on average, requires 500 to 1,000 years to decompose, the Japanese design company AMAM decided to develop a more earth-friendly way to package goods.
Called Agar Plasticity, the product is derived from agar, which is a gelatinous material that is readily found in red marine algae. (Recently, TrueActivist reported about a new water bottle made out of the seaweed, which you can ready about here)
The three designers behind AMAM are Kosuke Araki, Noriaki Maetani, and Akira Muraoka. In 2015, the trio teamed up to create things beyond their respective areas of interest; the algae-based alternative to plastic is their first collaborative project.
Explains Araki, one of the designers:
“We were attracted to the materiality of agar—the delicacy in its texture and beauty in its appearance—at a local supermarket. Relatively soon after that, we thought its delicate and light structure would be suitable for cushioning material. Then, we did some experiments and found agar was moldable, so we decided to send our proposal to LDA.”
According to GOOD, the design team’s project is one of four finalists for the 2016 Lexus Design Award. Each team was paired with a design mentor to bring a prototype to life for Milan Design Week.
The seaweed actually has a fascinating history as a food ingredient in Japan. It is typically sold dried, but people can also melt the agar in hot water to make traditional Japanese sweets and desserts. Reportedly, the process of making agar-based packaging is quite simple.
First, agar powder is dissolved in simmering water and then poured into a mold. Once the agar sets into a kind of jelly, the mold is frozen for approximately two days. This freezing process forms the agar into a structure that can provide cushioning for a packaged item, according to Araki. Finally, after two days, the frozen agar solution is thawed and completely air-dried.
“We are currently designing a box-like package, which has a cushioning structure derived from the freezing process for delicate objects (like a fragrance bottle), cushioning sheets for wrapping, and nugget-like cushioning,” Araki says. “We are ultimately dreaming of replacing disposable plastic products, such as shopping bags, amenity goods prepared at hotels and so forth, with agar-derived plastic.”
The designer also relays that someday, the team hopes the algae-based packaging will replace plastic. However, the process is presently “too technical and chemical for us to achieve by ourselves.” With help from researchers interested in collaborating, however, it could be made possible.
Packaging made from agar, however, would be an incredibly beneficial alternative to plastic. Agar-based packaging can be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way, as agar absorbs and retains water very well. It could also be used to improve water retention by mixing it with soil in a garden.
And, if the agar packaging were to end up in the ocean like billions of tons of plastic already is, it wouldn’t be devastating to the environment and wildlife’s health.
While the designers emphasize that Agar Plasticity is still in its prototyping phase, it’s exciting to see such a relatively simple alternative to plastic being presented. Certainly, when a group of passionate and inspired thinkers collaborate, anything is possible.
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