Styrofoam Lunch Container

It’s not news that we live in a material, disposable world. Synthetic material is a part of our day-to-day lives, from Styrofoam coffee cups, cheap building materials and plastic grocery bags. And while we’ve seen initiatives that try to move away from this mindset begin to pop up, we’re still wondering if we’ll ever truly be able to live without them?

Take your Friday takeaway as an example. You’ve worked hard all week, and you just want to get some yummy veggie sushi as a treat for yourself. But, as usual, you have to grit your teeth as you’re handed your takeaway box, knowing that you’ll have to just throw it away when you’re done.

So wasteful.

But lucky for us, green-minded entrepreneurs are developing solutions to these wasteful headaches. At a conference called Biofabricate — “the world’s first summit dedicated to the biofabrication for future industrial and consumer products” – that was held in New York City last December, many of these solutions were showcased, with a particular emphasis on the new materials that can be utilized for takeout containers.

Here are some of the highlights from Fast Company:

Fire-Free Bricks

Photo via Biomason

Clay bricks are one of the most fundamental building materials in the world, but they’re not the most environmentally friendly. To create clay bricks, they’re fired in kilns at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. Considering there are 1.3 trillion clay bricks produced globally every year, the process causes carbon dioxide emissions nearly equivalent to all of Germany’s emissions. Plus, there’s all that air pollution and demand for fresh water too.

Architect Ginger Krieg Dosier was inspired by how mollusks grow their shells in seawater, and began to wonder why we couldn’t grow bricks at room temperature too.

Using bacteria and nutrients, Dosier’s North Carolina-based company, Biomason, is now growing bricks (at room temperature) in a matter of days.

At the conference, Dosier said:

“What does a farm of bricks growing look like? We’ve come to learn that the process is much more closely related to [hydroponics] agriculture than it is to how traditional construction bricks are made.”

Bioplastics We Can Afford

Photo via Mango Materials

We have bioplastics, sure. But at $2 to $3 per pound, they’re simply not viable options for businesses compared to their $1-a-pound (in bulk) conventional petroleum-based plastics.

So what are we to do?

Well, create cheaper solutions – obviously! And Mango Materials, a startup based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is doing just that. By using methane waste from wastewater treatment plants and landfills to feed bacteria that produce biodegradable plastic as a byproduct, Mango Materials is creating a bioplastic that’s cheaper than others on the market.

Initially, the products that Mango Materials will be creating with its bioplastics will be relatively small, such as poker chips, Christmas ornaments, and possibly the microbeads in beauty products that are polluting the world’s oceans.

 Foam made from fungi

Photo via Evocative

How cool is this: Ecovative, a company that was started two college students in upstate New York eight years ago, is working with brands like Dell, Crate and Barrel, and Steelcase to replace one of the most unsustainable materials, Styrofoam, with their product called “mycofoam”. Mycofoam is is biodegradable alternative made from mycelium (think fungus!) and agricultural wastes (like corn husks).

Ecovative is now also expanding to include other materials such as an alternative to plywood called Myco Board a “grown-not-glued” alternative (yay, no formaldehyde!).

While all these new projects are amazing, we have to keep in mind that most governments are simply not doing enough to force change. Ideally, we need a ban on harmful, non-biodegrading plastics so that companies like these become the only viable solution for businesses.

Sharyn Morrow