– A POTENTIAL USEFULNESS OF AGAR FOR PACKAGING AND MORE
Year / 2016
Agar Plasticity is an ongoing material research project exploring the potential usefulness of agar as one of alternatives to synthetic plastics.
Goods are usually shipped wrapped in plastic materials. Once unwrapped, they soon become waste or are collected to be recycled. Considering the raw materials and energy for processing, this situation is undesirable.
In 2012, two hundreds and eighty eight million tons of plastics were produced worldwide, and more than 36% of materials used for packaging were plastics. But synthetic plastics do not biodegrade. This is the motivation for this project.
Anticipating effective and sustainable urilisation of natural resources has become more and more indispensable. To challenge this seemingly ignored problem, Kosuke began this project with two of his designer friends.
The Grad Prix winner of Lexus Design Award 2016
This was a collaborative project with Noriaki Maetani and Akira Muraoka.
Concept, Design, Research and Development, Production:
Kosuke Araki, Noriaki Maetani, Akira Muraoka
Agar is traditionally consumed as food in Japan, which is often used for making sweets. It is, also, used in scientific and medical fields worldwide. It is sold in dried state in shapes of block, flake and powder. Block agar shows porous, feathery structure and is very light despite its volume. These feautures led to explore its possibility as packaging material.
Its raw material is seaweed - precisely, two kinds of red algae, which grow and is harvested worldwide, and agar can be extracted by boiling the red algae.
Kosuke, Noriaki and Akira have worked on three different material experiments. Firstly, pure agar powder by itself. Secondly, combining agar powder with extracted red algae fibre. Thirdly, by mixing agar powder with shell ash, which is also a waste product from the food industry.
Through countless experiments, they have managed to produce a thin transparent film, loose-fill cushioning and a package with integrated cushioning using only powdered agar.
Either in a traditional or industrial way, agar production produces huge amounts of red algae waste. The disposal of the waste is costly for the manufacturer, so they have been searching for alternative ways of reusing it. With different concentrations of agar and algae, various hardnesses and thicknesses can be attained. For example, this composite material can be used as wrapping for flowers, or as cushioned packaging for plant pots and wine bottles, or moulded to make boxes.
Shell waste produced by food industry is another serious environmental issue. Everyday, tons of shell are being dumped as waste, resulting in huge disposal costs for farmers.
The composite of shell ash and agar becomes moldable, so it could be utilised as a material for building, like a wall tile.
All of those products are made using agar as the prime ingredient. After use, the agar products can be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way. When disposing of these, all of them could be utilised as a material improving waterretention of soil or as fertiliser with well water-retention, because agar absorbs and holds water very well, or should they end up in the ocean or landfill, they would not be harmful to the environment, to other lives. The agar simply biodegrades.
So far, Kosuke, Noriaki and Akira have produced just a selection of products and packaging using agar, all of which are still prototypes. Ultimately, they are envisioning to replace plastic products. However, because it is too technical and scientific for them to explore the potential plasticity of agar more deeply by themselves, they are now looking to collaborate with industry who can offer scientific support and further material development to help them celebrate its true potential.