Innovations in Food Packaging Preliminary Prize Criteria

Packaging, and food packaging, specifically, is a key factor in driving plastic pollution, and one of the greatest areas of concern is the increasing rise in single-use plastics - 50% of plastic becomes trash in less than a year. Exploring the landscape of single-use plastic packaging, compostable plastic film rose as an area of interest.

Flexible plastic film (i.e., cling wrap) has transformed food security prospects, but as a food wrapper, it is among the most common ocean pollutants, it is difficult to recycle and clogs recycling machines, and it’s prone to leakage from waste management systems. At the same time, innovations for this product seem to offer opportunities to take over a significant portion of the plastic market: flexible plastic film, due to its versatility, can serve multiple industries and is a product from which other applications can be produced, such as bags and labels. It is estimated to represent about 20% of the plastic market value.

Here are some of the initial criteria we are looking into.

A sustainable alternative to a flexible plastic film that is:

    Comparable to plastic functionality (transparent, durable, and versatile material that is water and air resistant to keep produce safe and fresh) Food, environment, and human safe Biodegradable in a marine environment, anaerobic environments and home compost Circular/Regenerative Cost-competitive with existing thin-film plastic production Compatible with most existing packaging machines
  • Scalable (i.e., sustainable feedstock, production pace)

We would love to hear your thoughts about the direction and the areas for investigation. Are you familiar with innovations and initiatives in this space? Are there specific challenges for innovators in this space?

Here are some of our preliminary criteria for innovations in food packaging, @eakinyi @LHanson @Joanne @Utobou @Thanku @AustinClowes @iduaolunwa @kjbradford @marsxr @bngejane and @renskelynde @akb and @marsxr! If you have thoughts on these criteria, or links, examples, experiences, and ideas around this space in general, feel free to share them here in the comments! And let us know if you have any questions. Thank you for your input so far!

Hemp cellulose cellophane. Cellophane is 100% biodegradable and can be composted in the compost bin (scrunch it up instead of covering your compost with a flat layer). Hemp can be grown to maturation in 90 days and many varieties of hemp contain around 70% cellulose. Other sources of common cellulose include wood (roughly half the amount of cellulose as hemp) and flax (which has a similar amount). These facts make a strong case to consider hemp and other plants for new biocomposite plastics.

@Joanne , that’s definitely an interesting stat on hemp cellulose. Curious! In these contexts is hemp grown solely for cellulose or is the cellulose extraction a byproduct of another purpose? Why do you think production moved away from cellophane instead of switching feedstock sources away from trees/wood?

Bio-based products are made of feedstock derived from living organisms, in whole or in a significant part. Such products include conventional materials like wood and pulp, and new products engineered to replace unsustainable resources.

Physical and chemical processes can split biomass into compounds like starch, cellulose, protein, and lignin, which can be transformed into new materials. Seaweed can be processed into edible cutlery and food packaging by companies like Evoware (Indonesia) and Skipping Rocks Lab (UK). The latter created Ooho, an edible sachet replacing plastic packaging for outdoor consumption of beverages and condiments. Using the company’s machine, retailers and caterers can produce 100 Oohos in minutes.

Thanks for pointing us in the direction of some innovators in this sector, @bngejane. In this case where feedstock is sourced from living organisms, how much consideration is given to the long term impacts and sustainability of these source materials? Also, thinking of the Ooho example you mentioned, do you know how comparable ‘scaleability’ of these alternative, is to conventional plastics?

That sounds like a good list of requirements @NickAzer
I’m optimistic that this worthy challenge is achievable. There are a range of potential candidates that involve biodegradable (organic) materials; and there’s this interesting idea: transparent wood, which when made as thin as paper might fit the bill. The idea of transparent wood has already been demonstrated.

Hi all.
Following the thread.

Thank you @akb and @ricardoyudi!

@NoraEatREAL @neillk @kcamphuis, curious if you might have any input here?

Are there any of the criteria here that jump out at everyone - and is there anything that should be added (or expanded upon)?

Just came to my mind that there are beeswax fabrics.,aps,177&sr=8-5&linkCode=sl1&tag=kimandcar-20&linkId=7ba6f5e96836d4e4e0527975177524b7&language=en_US

@NickAzer ideas to elevate the prize…other criteria to consider 1. Leadership through JEDI (does the prize team have 22nd century - Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion- integrated into its strategy and structure? Examine, Boards/Leadership/Team/Goals) 2. "Proven" safer -Food, Environment Proven Holistically Safe without unintended consequences (ability to prove ie robust testing- plastic wrap has ABC which do XYZ whereas the new technology leverages 1. 2. 3. and has been tested in _ _ _ ways). Is it proven to be better and have they examined unintended consequences of the product (if it’s better than plastic but is made from a source that uses chemicals or is largely produced via monocropping that depletes our bee or … population, it’s not a planet solution… e.g., sugarcane as something to avoid comes to mind). 3. Biomimicry - how does it learn from nature to help preserve nature

@NoraEatREAL these are all great points to consider and actually align perfectly with the values system we are currently considering as a foundation for some of this prize design. Tagging my teammates @Caroline and @Eti in case they have any thought or questions for you. As for me, Can you talk a little more about this JEDI concept?

I think the best packaging is no packaging at all. We used to ship from farms in permanent wooden containers and then people would put vegetables in their own shopping bags. What was wrong with that? Meet and fish were wrapped in newspapers. I see no reason not to return to that. It would also tend to solve the “ugly” food problem.

I hope this can help too

I had to listen to both sides of the story:

Thank you @jcoonrod for your insight. I’m curious if, in your opinion, there’s a single-use plastic packaging that is not likely to go away, and thus we are ought to find sustainable (and potentially regenerative) alternative? Just as an example, I’d like to share a snapshot of one of the reasons that led us to consider a focus on plastic film (as food wrap): it is a leading marine plastic pollutant, but plays an important role with regards to fresh produce - minimizing food loss and consumers greatly value the transparency it offers.

Excited to hear your thoughts on the subject, thank you in advance!

@NoraEatREAL echoing my colleague @nmgraham - Thank you for all the valuable insights! These are all key to consider, and we will begin unpacking these. With regards to your 2nd point “proven safer,” this is an area of great importance, especially considering the unraveling health consequences of the chemical substances and physical properties associated with plastic (i.e., leaching and microplastics). Are you familiar with any standards in this space (around ensuring that materials are food/human/environment safe)? Or perhaps any suggestions around exploring definitions for such concepts?

@bngejane Thank you for sharing these links

@Eti A few Ideas/places to get ideas on standards/experts re safe plastic alternatives:
This looks worth looking into exploring them as a stakeholder: MADE SAFE Certification Process
MADE SAFE programs and pricing for interested brands

European standards are known to be significantly higher so this could also be a reference or testing avenue: New test methods for plastic and rubber product safety | EU Science Hub

The EWG has an interesting report on BPA gone wrong which highlights various standards and shares good hindsight plus their network of experts could be engaged:

Ooo Linseed -Flax- for the win? Perhaps worth having A Good Company out of Sweden work on a prototype? I particularly love that their plastic alternative is made from a (beautiful) plant and it’s “backyard” compostable. Flax seeds, flax clothing, flax phone covers, flax wrap? A Good Mobile Case iPhone X, XS | A Good Company

Ohh! Interesting to look at phone cases categories for transferable technology - phone packaging to food packaging. Pela (which I’ve tried & like) has a new clear phone cover that’s a compostable blend of “ flax shive and a plant based biopolymer.”
What’s extra cool about this Canadian Company is their deep commitment to creating a waste free future including being “Climate Neutral Certified” (plus BCorp plus 1% for the planet).