Innovation moves on an exponential curve. It sometimes takes a while for society to find a solution or cross a threshold, but once it happens, the momentum picks up. Like the popular example of the 4-minute mile.
For years, people were told (and believed) that it’s impossible to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Athletes tried to break past the limit, but no one could run the mile under 4 minutes. On top of that, it was thought that if someone managed to do it, their heart would explode. Not exactly fun, right?
In 1954, a runner finally did what was deemed impossible. English athlete Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in under 4 minutes with a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds (and with his heart excited, but unharmed). This feat is legendary in its own right, and what came afterward amplified the “legend” status. Only 46 days after the 4-minute mile limit was broken, Australian athlete John Landy ran a mile with a time of 3 minutes 58 seconds. More runners continued to break past the 4-minute mile in the following year, and today it is not as unusual as it once was.
The progress of one person inspires others to take on challenges. Society’s perception of the 4-minute mile created a psychological barrier stronger than the actual physical limit. Seeing Roger Bannister, and John Landy soon after, break the 4-minute mile made athletes around the world more eager to do the same. Innovation is similar in the fact that people are eager to take a chance on their ideas when they see progress happening for others.
Creative Sustainable Material Alternatives
Material options are expanding. Material selection is an aspect of sustainable product development that can require a lot of care. When you look at the market these days, innovative individuals and companies invent many material alternatives to use in manufacturing. Think about how the change in sustainability is becoming more exponential. Sustainable product development started with a few options, which grew in recent years with people jumping at a chance to invent more alternatives. Such innovation can stop society from adding more pollution to landfills and the ocean.
For today, this post contains a list of 25 creative sustainable material alternatives that can be incorporated into sustainable product development. Some materials are biodegradable or compostable, while others are meant to be recycled and reused. Among the materials on the list, a few of the options can be sourced from waste in other industries, such as food waste or dairy waste. Some of the “materials” are listed as the brand name of their company. Lastly, we encourage doing more research on any material alternative that interests you.
A plastic-like material made from upcycled crop waste (fruits and vegetables) that can turn UV light into electricity (solar power).
*This is similar to traditional solar panels, except that it does not rely on how brightly the sun shines.
2. Banana Leaf
Banana leaves being used as a plastic packaging, plastic wrap, and plastic plate alternative.
3. Beeswax Wrap
A beeswax-coated cloth as an alternative for plastic wrap and platic bags.
4. Brewed Protein
A material made from microbial fermentation to be an alternative for cashmere and wool, *The material can be used to create fleece, leather, denim, and yarn.
A seaweed-based material that can be transformed into a leather alternative.
A cell-based biotextile as an alternative to leather.
*The material uses upcycled agro-industrial food waste.
A vegan leather alternative made entirely from the nopal “prickly-pear” cactus.
A seaweed-based material to replace plastic wrap and plastic sachets.
A seaweed-based material to replace plastic poly mailers and plastic food packaging.
A seaweed-based material to replace plastic straws.
11. Mushroom Packaging
A material made from mycelium (mushroom roots) and hemp hurds (a hemp-flour mixture) that can replace styrofoam.
*Mushroom Packaging is the name of a company.
A mushroom-based leather alternative made from mycelium.
A renewable diesel alternative made from used cooking oil.
An edible seaweed-based material than can replace plastic sachets, plastic packaging, and wax-like coatings (for items like cardboard takeout boxes).
*Notpla, the creator of Ooho!, also makes paper, pipette, and plastic film alternatives using their sea-weed process.
A material made from casein (a milk protein) as an alternative to silk.
A spider silk material alternative to polyester and nylon.
17. Sea Stone
A concrete alternative made from seashells.
*The seashells are specifically waste from the seafood industry.
A material made from coffee grounds as a yarn alternative.
19. S.Café AIRNEST
A bio-foam that can be used for shoes, home textiles, sports gloves, and fabrics.
A tea-based material from fermenting kombucha to make a leather alternative.
A seaweed-based material as a plastic alternative for heat-sealable films, rigid food packaging (punnets, trays, straws, cups, and lids), personal care/ cosmetic packaging, and apparel related items (poly bags, seal tags, and labels).
A seaweed-based material to replace plastic poly bags and plastic wrap.
23. TENCEL Lyocell
A lyocell fiber material made from eucalyptus trees as an alternative of viscose (rayon) or cotton.
*Lyocell in general is made from wood pulp.
24. TENCEL Modal
A fabric made from beech trees as an alternative of cotton or silk.
25. Yulex Pure
A natural rubber made from hevea trees (rubber trees) that is similar to fabric for wetsuits and other water sport-related products.
Alternatives on this list give an awesome look into the creative ideas people all over the world are trying for progress in sustainability. Years ago people would not even imagine that such combinations exist. Much like Roger Bannister and John Landy, the companies and individuals that are making these early strides show the world how possible it is to create sustainable material alternatives.
Solutions may not be perfect, but they help us move away from methods that are causing harm to our present and future. Hopefully, this list sparks ideas of what you can possibly make. Perhaps this list gives you a material suggestion for an MVP you’re designing. As more people share their progress, society can build on top of each other’s ideas, creating exponential change in sustainability.