The shell of a bird’s egg is one of our planet’s most marvelous small wonders. Researchers examining its fascinating properties have called it “nature’s technical ceramic,” noting its ability to protect its contents from both mechanical and microbial attacks while remaining breathable, regulating respiration, and allowing evaporation. It also stores calcium for the embryo to use for growth, and while it’s fragile enough to be broken by the beak of the emerging baby bird, it can also withstand the pressure of a mother bird’s entire bodyweight.
All of these properties make the eggshell a prime candidate for biomimicry when it comes to designing innovative biodegradable packaging for consumables like food, beverages, and personal care products. And while we’ve yet to see any such eggshell-inspired packaging take off on a large scale, designers are working on all kinds of projects that take this natural material into account. In one stunning example, the Germany-based Studio Basse Stittgen demonstrates how broken bits of used eggshells could help strengthen a new kind of bioplastic.
The studio says: “Annually, an average of 6.4 billion hens lay 1.1 trillion eggs. Simultaneously, one-third of all food per year is lost or wasted, which includes eggs that have short shelf lives and whose fragile shells are not the most suitable protection against processing and transport. From domestication to industrialization, the value of chicken and their eggs has progressively decreased, [with] the shift in human interaction with animals [going] from cohabitation to first encountering them dead and dissected served on plates.”
“In the project ‘How Do You Like Your Eggs,’ the content becomes container, [and] an egg cup is produced from discarded eggs. It explores the extraordinary materiality of an ordinary item of consumption.”
Stittgen’s project aims to generate awareness about the waste of eggs on many scales, but [it] also point[s] out just how much non-biodegradable plastic we use every day and how easily we could replace it with something healthier for the planet. “How Do You Like Your Eggs” uses expired egg whites and shells to produce thermoformed bioplastic cups with zero other additives. That’s it — just eggs.
“In today’s context, traditional non-degradable plastics are highly problematic, especially because of our throw-away culture; opposed to that in this project, a new, fully degradable bioplastic is used to create a narrative about consumption and waste,” says Stittgen. “This can be seen as a novel approach to how plastic can be a conveyor of meaning rather than a pollutant.”
The resulting containers look quite strong, and it would be interesting to see how they held up after long periods of everyday use. It’s just the latest intriguing concept for bioplastics that could offer new ways to transport and store products on their way to consumers, including materials that take inspiration from nature like edible sugarcane packaging shaped like fruit skin and disposable tableware made of discarded avocado pits. There’s even a type of bioplastic made of “liquid wood” that has all the malleable properties of plastic while being 100-percent recyclable and renewable.
The technology to produce such materials already exists, but putting the pressure on manufacturers to invest in our collective future by making the shift to biodegradable packaging is entirely up to us.