Are you ready for a rambling post? I have an idea I’d love your feedback on. So please bear with me:
Remember my post about Morocco and all the plastic trash we saw there? We may not have posted about it specifically but plastic waste has been a constant in our travels since. It is absolutely everywhere.
What if there was a way to do something about that.
After some quick googling I found that worldwide the top 3 staple foods are maize corn (19.5%), rice (16.5%) and wheat (15%).
What if the top brands for those staples would use the same stack-able square multi-use packaging made from (recycled) plastic for their medium products of let’s say approximately 5kg or the equivalent volume. It could be an incentive for locals to buy that specific brand of product, because this packaging is going to do more than just hold rice.
After use this container can be filled with plastic waste and sand (or concrete) and used to build cheap houses with.
There are already similar great initiatives like bricks made of recycled plastic (but this needs a recycling and melting facility) or building houses with sand filled PET bottles that are already helping a lot of people.
We have a worldwide plastic waste problem and using the packaging from foods people already buy a lot of for collecting/using trash could potentially help with both plastic waste and housing problems.
Recycling is an option for plastics that can be recycled (although it does produce toxic waste and the process is very flawed), but not all plastics can be and not all areas have the infrastructure to deal with waste effectively. A lot of waste is being burned or buried.
Also a lot of people need houses and we’ve witnessed them being very creative in using whatever materials they have on hand to build with.
By using trash to fill “bricks” and build houses with it at least there is a use for it after all, at least until someone comes along with a better idea for it. And people can do this themselves, even in remote areas. Just fill with plastic waste and sand.
I believe that the future of packaging will move towards reusable packaging anyways (major brands are already designing new packaging for Loop), so why not try to get major brands involved that sell staple foods in South America, India, Africa etc.
I’m not sure yet how this packaging should look. I’m not a designer. I do think it has to have a wide, round screw-on lid that closes 100% water- and airtight, a handle so it can be carried, and indentations so they can interlock much like legos. It would be cool if it can be designed in such a way that several sides can be cut off to be used as roof shingles and the handle part turns into a trowel that people can use if they want to cover the walls of their house with mud or clay.
It has to have a printed wrapper for the brands info, and it has to have simple pictures somewhere in the material itself that explain the idea in a visual 1-2-3 fashion (1. fill with trash – 2. add sand or concrete – 3. build a house).
For easy shipping, a multitude of these containers are going to have to fit on a standard pallet. Possibly in two sizes; a “whole” and “quarters” so there are volume options but also they still work together. The quarters could also be used to make furniture as they are smaller.
One thing I don’t have a solution for that could easily be a deal-breaker: costs. As far as I could find most medium packaging of rice, flour are now being sold in thin, transparent, printed plastic bags. I’m pretty sure a more sustainable form of packaging is going to be more expensive. And I wouldn’t want prices on staples to go way up for local people, because that means creating a new problem instead of solving one.
But, changing the packaging to be of more use to people isn’t new as proven by the flour companies in the 1930’s. If it could be done then, why not now? It could lead to a lot of positive attention for the brands willing to do this!
Now, this is where you come in. I really love to get feedback on this idea. What do you think? What am I missing? Am I completely delusional to think this could maybe work? Any suggestions on who I should talk to?