How might we change the concept of disposability without challenging the behavioral instinct to just “throw it away?”
This project began with Studies in Natural Packaging, an in-depth exploration of plant-based bioplastics. By evaluating the entire life cycle of the material, from its ingredients and fabrication to functional applications and disposal, I 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. “Gone” provides an opportunity for the user to choose sustainability and convenience at the same time.
Design for the retail packaging is also fully compostable, made from paperboard and finished with more laser-etched bioplastic.
A Clif Shot Energy Gel (Left) seen on the side of the road during the Sagan Gran Fondo in Windsor, California in November, 2019. Because of the prevalence of this kind of litter in athletic events, a cleanup crew is typically required to sweep the course for trash left behind by participants. A used Gone package (right), when littered, will quickly biodegrade in a matter of days.
practical application: athletic nutrition
A great deal of single-use products that are made from and/or packaged in synthetic plastic could be redesigned to use this bioplastic. In this instance it serves as a container for an energy gel, a nutritional supplement often used during endurance sports like running or cycling. Existing products use a plastic-coated foil; because energy gels are often eaten in the middle of a workout or a race, this means athletes must either carry the used, sticky package for the remainder of their exercise or ceate litter. “Gone” allows athletes to dispose of the package immediately with no negative 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.
Once I reached a suitable material, I began to experiment with different manufacturing and processing methods. User testing revealed a problem I had not encountered before; the uneven,organic texture of the bioplastic I made felt gross when compared to modern plastic films. The greatest challenge I faced was giving a purely organic material the same artificial, manufactured aesthetic that seems to comfort the typical consumer.
While the initial experiments appeared rough around the edges, they began to look more precise with better tools. Laser-cutting allowed a way to make irregular sheets of material appear consistent. Looking to nature for inspiration, I captured images of the material under a powerful Electron Scanning Microscope (ESM), and derived a pattern to laser-etch onto the surface of the same material.
Based on testing (left) the material has no perceptible impact on pH levels of nearby water, even when directly submerged.