Material Highlight: Seeded Paper
by Rudy Sanchez on 10/20/2020 | 4 Minute Read
Most packaging requires digging up earthly resources and repurposing it, from oils made out of dead dinosaurs and metals scooped out of the ground to macerated plants. Some of these materials can get recycled, sure. But what if there was a packaging material that can contribute back to the environment instead of taking from it?
No, it’s not alchemy—it's seeded paper.
The material, as the name suggests, is a form of paper with actual seeds embedded in it. Typically, brands will add wildflowers into the mix, but it's not uncommon to find one that uses vegetable or herbs seeds as well. Once the packaging reaches its end-of-life, you plant it in the ground; with enough time and care, your packaging will become a part of the natural environment it now occupies.
Which, you know, is a pretty good deal. Plants contribute food and shelter to surrounding creatures, absorb CO2 from the air, converting it to oxygen. Plus, they're natural recyclers, using resources created from dead and decayed matter to grow, eventually becoming decay themselves and giving back to other plants.
The process of making seeded paper is actually quite simple, with seeds added to the pulp during the papermaking process. So easy that the rocket scientists at NASA have even created simple-to-follow directions so that kids can make their own...for science.
Commercial alternatives exist, of course, often used for wedding invitations (because what bridezilla would pass up a permanent spot in your garden?), greeting cards, and other stationery. Seeded paper can also get utilized in packaging designs, and recycled paper embedded with future-flora can add a unique dimension to branding or packaging, particularly for companies that want to talk up their bona fides when it comes to single-use plastic alternatives.
Some brands have already experimented with seeded packaging, like Haws, for example. The watering can manufacturer includes a small thank-you card, tying it to the brand’s reputation among gardeners. Similarly, distilled non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip released a gift set using another plant-based material, mycelium, which can also go into the ground, breaking down naturally while providing the soil with nutrients. Included with the set was a paper tag with thyme seeds-recipients just needed to fill the mycelium vessel with soil and plant the label, and voila, you've got fresh herbs for your drink. Additionally, Pangea Organics packaged its bar soaps in plantable packaging that has spruce tree seeds embedded in it, making both yards and bodies smelling fresh.
As is many times the case, students are exploring new, sustainable alternatives to the conventional. Jamie Back’s project explores the use of seeded paper to beneficial effect, as used in a hypothetical extension of brand Seventh Generation’s product line and commitment to sustainable packaging, a move that could further cement their dedication to all things circular. Back in 2018, then-student Jessica Hord developed wildflower seed paper for a conceptual line of seeds dubbed Tru Seed that, theoretically, you'd never even open up. Just buy the packaging and bury it in the ground.
However, seeded paper isn’t without some drawbacks. In addition to any limitations or weaknesses inherent in paper and cardstock, some governments may ban the material out of concern for sensitive ecosystems, like Hawaii as not all plants are suitable for all locations within a market. Additionally, the ink used to print will also have to be safe to bury into the ground along with the seeds as well.
While some brands struggle with incorporating recycled materials into their packaging, others are using organic and biodegradable materials that return something useful to the planet. Materials such as seeded paper go beyond sustainable to be being regenerative, further proof not only that circular packaging options exist, but that you can finally toss something in the ground and forget about it, minus the watering.