According to the data provided by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) close to 13 million tons of plastic ends up in seas and oceans around the world. Plastic pollution is as important as global warming – the world is drowning in plastic waste. SCOBY, packaging material, developed by Róża Rutkowska, graduate of SWPS University’s School of Form is an answer to this problem.

Problem

Global environmental pollution

The mass production of plastics, which previously had been reserved for the military use only, began in the 1950s. By 2017, 8.3 billion tons of plastics were produced. This amount equals 16,000 Burj Khalifa buildings, the tallest skyscraper in the world, located in Dubai, or 1.3 billion male African elephants grouped together. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 there may be more plastic waste in the oceans and seas than fish. Despite this alarming data, the food industry keeps using more and more plastics for its purposes. In the second half of 2020, which was deeply marked by the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the production of plastics began to grow again, after a sharp drop recorded during the first six months of the year. It is expected that this trend will continue in 2021.

What about recycling? Between 1950 and 2015 only 9 percent of plastic refuse was recycled, 12 percent was burnt and the rest ended up in landfills, oceans and forests. Microscopic plastic particles have been found in human bodies as the result of eating fish, seafood, sea salt, and drinking bottled water, and even beer and honey. The world is drowning in plastics.

Can the plastic apocalypse be prevented? Can plastic packaging, that we have grown to regard as normal, be replaced?

Solution

SCOBY – organic packaging as an alternative to plastic

The European Parliament is waging a war on plastics and has declared a ban on single-use plastics, such as plastic straws, plates, utensils and cotton swabs in the European Union. Some well-known brands have declared that they would limit the use of plastic packaging in favor of renewable resources or recycled materials. There are also local wars fought in the name of a plastic-less world and one of the warriors is Róża Janusz. For her diploma project at SWPS University’s School of Form, Industrial Design program, she designed SCOBY, organic packaging for dry and semi-dry food. SCOBY is like apple skin, it secures the flesh and it is also edible. Once you are done with SCOBY as packaging, you may eat it or throw it away (best on a compost heap), because it quickly biodegrades. The packaging is made of kombucha, commonly known as tea fungus or kombucha mushroom. It is a symbiotic yeast and bacterial culture. This is where the name SCOBY comes from: Symbiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast.

The designer took advantage of the fact that when kombucha is fed agricultural refuse it grows in layers, like an onion, and it creates a membrane on top of a liquid. The membrane then can be used as packaging. You put the membrane, which can turn into packaging for your lunch, into a liquid containing sugars, and you leave it for one to two weeks. To grow, kombucha does not require light, sterile conditions or advanced technologies. However, it does like a warm environment, temperature around 25 degrees Celsius.

SCOBY packaging is perfectly aligned with the zero waste lifestyle, which encourages people to produce as little man-made garbage as possible. SCOBY can help to reduce the amount of waste, such as plastic bags, in a situation when an average Pole uses approximately 250 to 300 bags per year.

SCOBY is an experiment in the circular production process, where both parties, nature and humans, reap benefits. Cultivating growing materials means cooperation with micro-organisms for the benefit of the environment, and when you design for the environment, you also help humans as inhabitants of this ecosystem. Farmers grow SCOBY and get material for packaging. Once the packaging is no longer needed, farmers obtain a valuable refuse, which thanks to its acidic pH and a great amount of mineral substances may serve as fertilizer regulating soil pH, a probiotic drink or animal feed. Hence, “growing materials” like SCOBY provide a real alternative to synthetic packaging.

Why?

We are responsible for the world we live in

We are addicted to plastics, because they make food storage and cooking easy. However, we should remember that we have a choice – it is up to us to create the world we live in and the world we design for future generations. SCOBY is a compromise between convenience and caring for the environment. It encourages people to look differently at nature and agriculture, as they can provide materials that can compete with those used for the production of mass-produced products.

SCOBY also encourages us to consider a mutually beneficial cooperation between people and nature. SCOBY’s inventor often emphasizes that her Industrial Design studies at SWPS University’s School of Form taught her to use an interdisciplinary approach to design, and most of all, she has learned that people can act responsibly, develop new solutions, and prevent global problems, such as environmental pollution.

Róża Janusz

Róża Janusz

is a packaging designer and owner of MakeGrowLab, a company that develops, designs, and makes ecological products and systems that are environment friendly. She is a graduate of Industrial Design (2018), which she studied at SWPS University’s School of Form. She was a finalist in the 2018 “Make Me” competition, organized by the Łódź Design Festival. Her graduation project SCOBY, a biodegradable and edible packaging material developed from agricultural waste, has enjoyed huge publicity in various media, including dezeen, The Future:Laboratory, Mold, and Designboom. Scoby was shown at the London Design Festival, Brussels Design September, Bayern Design, and Gdynia Design Days. SCOBY was also nominated for an award in the Ecology Category, in the Soczewki 2018 competition, organized by the Focus magazine, which recognizes the best Polish innovation projects.

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