When you’re ready to throw out this new type of packaging, it shouldn’t go in the recycling bin. Instead, the carton is designed to be planted in your backyard, where legume seeds embedded in the material can start to grow, improving soil health and helping the dirt sequester more carbon from the air.
“Recycling is important but costs money, time, and electricity,” says George Bosnas, the Greece-based designer who developed the concept for the Biopack. There are other problems in broken recycling systems: Occasionally, items that are picked up from recycling bins aren’t actually recycled, as in cities that struggled to adapt when China stopped importing low-quality recyclables. When they are recycled, they might be “downcycled” to a lower-grade material. While some startups work on trying to solve those problems, Bosnas saw an opportunity to bypass the recycling system completely.
The package, conceived for a circular economy design competition, is a simple egg carton. Bosnas wanted to focus on a common item that often ends up in the trash. (In Greece, egg cartons are usually made from plastic; in the U.S., where cartons are often made from paper, someone with access to composting could compost a carton if they wanted to circumvent recycling.) The package is made from paper pulp, flour, starch, and legume seeds. After use, it’s meant to be planted in the ground and watered, and then the seeds will sprout.
“I chose legumes because they are used as nitrogen fertilizers in nature,” says Bosnas. The plants make the soil healthier. Though Bosnas wasn’t specifically focused on climate change, his product can have an additional benefit: boosting the amount of carbon that is stored in the ground. Studies suggest that legumes can store 30% more carbon in soil than other plants. On farms, proponents of “regenerative agriculture”—who plant legumes among other methods to improve soil health—argue that these techniques are an important tool in fighting climate change. Most of that work has happened on farms, but it could also happen in backyards.
It’s not clear how much this type of packaging could replace traditional alternatives, or what happens when someone doesn’t have a yard or runs out of room to plant new containers. But something like this might work for some applications, just as others, such as architect William McDonough, have talked about the concept of wrappers that could be safely littered by the side of the road to decompose. Bosnas says that he’s already in talks with potential producers. He points out that it could also be a better experience than just recycling. “Besides [being] ‘more than biodegradable,’ it’s actually fun watching plants grow from packaging,” he says.