Grow your own packaging: An interview with Roza Janusz

Interviews

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a giant collection of garbage floating around in the ocean – is now three times the size of France. Double the size of the state of Texas. And by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in our ocean than fish. The toxic chemicals that plastic emits when slowly decomposing is not only killing off wildlife, but we’ve also discovered that these chemicals are now present in around 90% of us – increasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as damaging the brain and reproductive system.

So what are we doing about this? While it may have become a little a la mode to preach about the environmental crisis we’re enduring, not many of us are doing much about it other than investing in a stainless steel straw and posting it on our Instagram stories (I’m guilty of this one myself). Yet some of us are taking this environmental crisis a lot more seriously, and for that we owe Roza Janusz our eternal gratitude.

Polish farmer and industrial design student, Janusz has created a fully recyclable alternative to plastic food packaging, made from organic material that can be eaten or composted after use. The material is a membrane made of bacteria and yeast which is created through a fermentation process. So whilst Roza’s ‘SCOBY’ wrapping may look like a dried pig’s bladder, this creative innovation – designed to store semi dry foods or even instant meals – may actually be our answer to the future of zero-waste packaging.

Creative Conscience spoke to Roza about her work and where she sees it heading.

What made you get into sustainable food packaging?
I wanted to combine fabrication with cultivation as I believe making and growing together can create regenerative processes and products. So after long research, I became a SCOBY farmer (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). As the ingredients are quickly renewable and can be grown from local resources anywhere in the world, I started to look for the most urgent application of the material.

How exactly does the packaging preserve the food?
It acts as an oxygen barrier, as air is a main component involved in food’s decay. The material also has antibacterial properties – similar biocellulose material is used in medicine to protect and heal wounds!

How did you discover this?
The first prototype of the product was made by purchasing the SCOBY starter kit, and then simply adding sugar and tea in a shallow container – just google KOMBUCHA DIY. I then connected the dots and consulted with a variety of scientists and technologists to improve the process, and of course, lots of prototype trial and error was involved.  

What would it take to get shops to implement this?
I’m in touch with a few companies and we’re currently considering open sourcing the process to allow both small and large companies to try their hand at growing their own packaging. We’re intending to start small to eventually inspire bigger corporations to make a change.

How will packaging enrich the environment in the future?
First and foremost, SCOBY is nutritional for home compost – it can be grown from agricultural waste, so the process is cyclical. SCOBY’s goal is to produce locally so we can avoid transportation and the supply chain can be significantly shortened, just like when you buy a sandwich with ingredients and packaging made within a 5km parameter. I hope that we will start thinking of grown packaging as similar to food, look at where it comes from and how it was produced.

Where is the future of sustainable packaging headed?
Looking at new projects, I am seeing that we are leaning towards using existing matter considered as waste for our packaging like Sonia Jaskiewicz’s project. She noticed that in sugar production there is plenty of unused matter, she turned this into hard and moldable packaging. While her material is stiff, SCOBY is flexible and transparent. I don’t think we will find one material that will replace plastic, but I see the future of packaging production relying much more heavily on local resources.

Have you got any more plans up your sleeve?
When my working day is done, I like to think about what shopping would look like if more things were grown. I like to imagine what IKEA’s shop floor would feature. Perhaps all plastic bags will be replaced by SCOBY. Growing packaging opens up new possibilities in the world of home décor and furniture, as well as creating new user experiences.

How could we get more people on board?
I am trying to gather people with the same mission; designers, scientists, farmers, kitchen chefs, and enthusiasts, in order to create a community and a bridge between professions. SCOBY packaging is a project that can create a movement towards blending science, design and entrepreneurship to change the current production system. Co-creation is the way forward! (so stay tuned!)

The time has come to drastically cut back on plastic-based wrapping and focus on alternatives. And Roza’s compostable packaging may just be the answer – ‘we have to change the way we make things and work with nature to save our home and respect the limited resources that we have left’.

eMail: Rozajanusz.makegrow@gmail.com
Website:  www.makegrowlab.com

Written by Rosie May Bird Smith