Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

In the Microbial Home, Used Plastic Packaging Grows New Food

The Netherlands-based Philips brand enjoys global recognition for a variety of human well being products, from TVs to personal grooming systems and more. Less well known is its intense, creative focus on future human well being, which includes recycling plastics.

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Some well-deserved recognition came last year when Philips Design received the prestigious Red Dot International Design Award for the concept, ideas, and prototype of its Microbial Home, an integrated domestic ecosystem functioning as a biological machine that filters, processes, and recycles what we now think of as waste.

Among the Microbial Home’s innovations stands the Paternoster plastic waste up-cycler, a device whose starting point is what seems to be a paradox for plastic packaging. To fulfill its primary function, plastic packaging must withstand a variety of environmental attacks on its food contents, perhaps for years—and that seems to preclude biodegradability. The people of Philips Design think otherwise.

The Paternoster plastic waste up-cycler

One of the innovations in Philips Design’s Microbial Home, the Paternoster plastic waste up-cycler uses recycled plastic packaging to grow edible mushrooms.

The Paternoster starts by mixing plastic packaging that has been ground into fine chips with mycelium, the main growing structure of a fungus, in a glass canister. A hand-cranked conveyor is used to move multiple canisters in a circuit within the Paternoster’s dark cavity over several weeks, while plastic grounds are mixed with the mycelium to break down the plastic. Near the end of the plastic’s decomposition cycle the mix is exposed to air and daylight through an opening in the device, which allows the mycelia to sprout edible mushrooms. The result is real food, and according to the developers, real tasty.

The Paternoster is but one of the inspired innovations of the Microbial Home, all of which can be seen here. Even a cursory look is enough to show why the Microbial Home won the award, and winning the Red Dot Luminary Award is not easy.

The 2011 Red Dot Award competition drew 3,536 entries from 3,883 designers working in 1,221 teams based in 54 countries. In the end, the jury awarded 252 Red Dots, 42 Red Dot Best of the Bests, and one Red Dot Luminary Award—to Philips Design’s Microbial Home.

You can see more of the Red Dot Award designs on the Red Dot website, as well as other future-oriented innovation from Philips on its website. It seems Philips has taken to heart the advice that it makes sense to pay attention to the future, for we will spend the rest of our lives in it.

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