MaterialDistrict

Gone offers a biodegradable alternative to plastic packaging

With her project Gone, designer Lizzie Wright developed a plant-based bioplastic material that is fully compostable in a matter of days, especially with packaging for energy gels for athletes in mind.

Many single-use products or packaging are made from synthetic plastic. One example of such a product are energy gels, a nutritional supplement often used during endurance sports like running or cycling. Most of these gels are packaged in a plastic coated foil. Because athletes often consume them in the middle of a workout, they have to carry the sticky wrap until they find a bin, or create litter.

Wright started her project with an in-depth exploration of plan-based bioplastics. Evaluating the entire life cycle of the materials, from its ingredients and fabrication to functional applications and disposal, she was able to avoid the environmental side effects that often accompany modern plastics.

“It’s no secret that the use of petroleum-based plastics for single-use products like grocery bags, cups, and cutlery is a highly unsustainable practice because of the material’s permanence and expansive carbon footprint, but we continue to choose the less sustainable options in exchange for a level of convenience that has become a necessity in modern life,” Wright comments. “‘Gone’ provides an opportunity for the user to choose sustainability and convenience at the same time.”

As a practical application, Wright turned her material into a container for an energy gel. After consumption, the athlete can dispose of the packaging safely, without worrying about the environmental impact. It can be thrown on the side of the road where rainfall and local critters will break it down in a matter of days. The material has no perceptible impact on the pH levels of nearby water, even when directly submerged.

Once Wright had developed a suitable material, she began experimenting with different manufacturing and processing methods. Unfortunately, the uneven, organic texture gave the packaging an unpleasant feel compared to plastic films.

To give the material the same artificial, manufactured aesthetic as petroleum-based plastic, Wright turned to laser-cutting. This technique allowed a way to make irregular sheets of material appear consistent. Wright captured images of the bioplastic under a powerful Electron Scanning Microscope (ESM) and derived a patter to laser-etch onto the surface of the material.

Wright also designed packaging for a number of energy gels, made from compostable paperboard and laser-etched bioplastic.

The Gone product is currently patent-pending.

Photos: Lizzie Wright

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