OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

How we carry produce can save our planet...Croptainer Strainer!

We deliver/store produce without toxic small format plastics using a product & circular system that helps businesses, customers & planet.

Photo of Camron Hinman
2 1

Written by

Have you ever noticed that your healthy fruits and vegetables have a second skin? It's Plastic.  

Even individuals taking their own eco-friendly shopping bags to grocery stores and farmer's markets end up coming home with a large number of small-format plastic bags, containers, closures and tear-offs holding their healthy fruits and vegetables.

Farmers also transport their crops to the grocery stores and farmer's markets in plastic bags and containers.

The Croptainer Company developed a product, Croptainer Strainer, to help shed fruits and vegetables of this toxic second skin and eliminate these hazardous small-format plastics and even large plastics from littering our planet.


Inspiration

The idea for Croptainers evolved from research done while participating in IDEO's Circular Design Thinking Challenge to reduce the use of plastics. Challenge resources were provided on the overuse and misuse of plastics globally. 

The materials inspired taking a closer look at what was happening in our own community with plastic usage.  From farmers' markets to giant grocery stores the problem was clear...that the containers used for fruits and vegetables were primarily plastic.

Worse yet, many of these smaller plastic containers were used in large quantities, were not BPA free, and not being recycled. Research shows it is the smaller plastic containers that contribute the most to pollution.  

To begin, a variety of design thinking activities were used to solve this problem. Beginning with combining the Circular Design Thinking Understand and Define Activities. These were used to develop a Human Centered Circular Business model, brand, and a team for the new circular innovation of Croptainers.


Ideation

The actual creation of the Croptainer Strainer came after completing additional Make Activities to understand the best way to make a solution for replacing the toxic plastics holding our healthy produce and polluting our planet. This involved to name a few, user-centered and materials research, brainstorming, storyboarding, role playing, developing rapid prototypes, and getting feedback.

The results led to not only a new innovative product to replace the plastic produce bags and containers, closures and tear-offs, but creating a new circular system for delivering healthy produce to consumers in a healthy and environmentally friendly way. 


Implementation

The Release Activities in the Circular Design process helped develop journey maps, partnerships, and ideas for live prototyping. The launch of the Croptainers pilot is now scheduled for Fall 2017. 

The sustainable food grade stainless steel Croptainer Strainers will be used to transport healthy produce to children in need. The new circular system that Croptainers has made possible involves a partnership with several local schools, a community educational support group, low income families, local farmers/stores, and a local machinery shop. To launch the pilot, donations for the prototypes and a distribution program for the produce was established. 

The innovative Croptainers Circular System for the pilot:  

  • Croptainers partnered with a local machinery shop to make Croptainer Strainers which are provided to the early adopters, and the community educational support group.
  • Educational support group members go to local farmers markets/stores weekly to have their Croptainer Strainers filled with produce. 
  • Educational support group members return to the school, and easily clean and store the produce in the Croptainer Strainers until Friday after school. 
  • Fridays after school, the produce is given to low income children to be taken home for the weekend.  
  • Croptainer Strainers are then taken back to the store to refill the following week, or if there is any need to fix a Croptainer Strainer it is returned, repaired and reissued to the user. 

Like magic, the healthy produce has shed it's toxic plastic second skin and our planet isn't collecting it! 


Growth Croptainers

The Croptainers pilot transporting healthy produce to school children in need is just the start! The idea of using Croptainers innovative Croptainer Stainers as a healthier and sustainable way to deliver fresh produce is easy to accelerate and scale. The goal is to continue expanding on the Croptainers pilot which is a social venture and have it become part of the ongoing community give back. This would mean adding more schools to the weekend take home program, local homeless shelters, and low income pre and after school programs. There are currently 40 schools within our community alone, all with low income children in need of healthy produce for the weekends. To do be able to accelerate and scale, Croptainers has two Use Cases which are also circular business models and delivery systems that could generate sustainable revenue and that are human centered and environmentally friendly.  

Use Case 1

Currently, stores and farmers both have to provide small-format plastic bags, containers, closures, tear-offs, and cardboard to transport produce to each other and to the commercial and individual customers. These are often disposed of, not reusable, or inadequate for storage. They then have to unpack and remove the produce from these multiple containers to clean them. On the other hand, the Croptainer Stainer can save time by allowing efficient rinsing in the same delivery container and a healthy way to store the produce in a reusable, stackable BPA free container. In addition, usually, the stores and/or farmers must furnish additional plastic bags and containers for customers to take the produce home.

Use Case 2

Commercial and individual customers use additional plastic bags, containers, closures, and tear-offs to take produce home. They spend time removing the produce to clean it and dispose of the packaging plastics ending up with more packaging waste that cannot be recycled. In addition, they have to find ways to store the produce at home or in their business. Cardboard boxes and containers that can not be cleaned in restaurants attract pests and harbor bacteria and this is another benefit of using Croptainer Strainers. In their use case, healthy and sanitary Croptainer Stainers would be used instead to transport, clean, and store produce for them.  

The Croptainer Strainers replace those plastics, provide additional time, and offer significant saving to the businesses in both use case scenarios. For example, regionally in the Midwest, preliminary interviews and research showed even at local farmer's markets attended by the most environmentally conscience community members, they were still leaving the market with plastic. For example, in one day one farm stand gave out 360 plastic bags to its 500 customers. Instead, these environmentally conscience community members each could purchase weekly subscriptions at the farmers market that included receiving a Croptainer Strainer. It could be filled with farm fresh produce and used repeatedly instead of disposal non-recyclable toxic plastic. This would be cost and time saving to the farming business and the customer. The feedback for adopting this method of delivery has been overwhelming positive. Some farmers suggested an at home delivery service using Croptainers. They felt this would help encourage buying locally grown produce and reach more consumers that can't make it to the farmers market during Saturday mornings due to time or transportation constraints.  Croptainer Strainers filled with produce are delivered to the customer. They keep the Croptainer Strainer to clean and store the produce at home or at work. Their Croptainer Strainer from the week before is returned to be refilled. Although, damage to the stainless steel is unlikely, if there is any need to fix a Croptainer Strainer, it is repaired before it is returned.

The Croptainers Circular business models and delivery systems are successful because they not only eliminate the use of materials that harm people and the planet, but create a circular system with zero net impact and cost savings to the businesses and customers.    


About Myself

My name is Camron Hinman. I reside in Normal, Illinois, USA. Yes, "Normal"! In the heart of the Midwest. I will be a junior in high school this year, and I am the Founder of the Croptainers company and Inventor of the Croptainer Strainer product. 

When I heard about the IDEO Circular Design Challenge to Reduce Plastic Waste, I knew I wanted to submit something very impactful. I have always had a passion for saving the environment and the overuse of plastics has always disturbed me greatly. Even from a very young age, I've tried many times to remind people to recycle but they just don't get the message!  Also, I have always had a passion for gardening ever since I created my own for a Boy Scout project. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables from my garden is important because I know it keeps me healthy.  I've always wanted to find a way to collect these crops in safe containers. I've always wondered why plastic was "necessary" to store produce.  Worse yet, many of the packages I see at stores containing produce have multiple layers of small-format plastics that are difficult to recycle. One example is clamshell lettuce containers that also have tear-offs tabs and tear-off film under the lid.

So I asked myself, why not use another material to store and transport produce? What if I designed one that would keep the healthy produce free from chemicals and the environment free from waste? What if that same container had holes at the bottom so water could run through to clean the produce unlike soggy cardboard? The result was the Croptainer Strainer and the Croptainers Company Circular Design System. 


 



 


 

Idea Title

Croptainer Strainer

Company / Organization Name

Croptainers

Website

www.croptainer.org

Where are you / your team located?

Normal, Illinois, USA

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

The Croptainer Company developed a product, Croptainer Strainer, and circular delivery system for it, to replace the hazardous small-format plastics and even large plastics that transport and store produce from farm to market to consumer (commercial and personal). The Croptainer Strainer is made of food grade stainless steel and contains a build in strainer to allow water to flow through to clean the produce without re-packaging. There are several circular delivery system options reducing cost.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Case 2 Seeing healthy produce in BPA plastic packaging especially those with unnecessary multiple layers and tear-off strips, closures and films has always bothered me. Through my experience as a boy scout I have come to appreciate environment and healthy eating, and this type of packaging is inhibiting both of those from happening. I set out to create a product to eliminate the unnecessary waste to our planet and hazardous chemicals surrounding our healthy produce.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

Midwest USA. We hope to become global someday and lead by example.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

The goal is to continue expanding on the Croptainers pilot and make it a give back for the company to the other 40 schools. This could be accomplished with the revenue from the two other use cases discussed in the full description. The cost savings to local businesses and increase use of local crops has already generated interest. I would like to have the Croptainer Stainer available to purchase nationwide and inspire others to use this circular system.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

After advice, mentoring and exposure, the goals are: 1.Begin selling & distributing Croptainer Strainers to be used in a healthier circular system between farmers, stores & customers (commercial & indiv) that saves money, time, & the planet. This revenue helps meet Goal 2: 2.Expand Croptainers Children’s Program in more schools with a giveback where a Croptainer is donated to a school. They develop their circular system with a local farmer/grocery. Those needing repaired are repaired/returned.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

When I heard about the IDEO Circular Design Challenge to Reduce Plastic Waste, I knew I wanted to submit something very impactful. I have always had a passion for saving the environment and the overuse of plastics has always disturbed me greatly. Even from a very young age, I've tried many times to remind people to recycle but they just don't get the message! Also, I have always had a passion for gardening ever since I created my own for a Boy Scout project.

Tell us about your work experience

My name is Camron Hinman. I reside in Normal, Illinois, USA. Yes, "Normal"! In the heart of the Midwest. I will be a junior in high school this year, and plan to save our planet!

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Right now I am the sole proprietor, but would someday like to become a B-Corp.

2 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Jill Petersen
Team

Hey Camron, Croptainer is a neat idea! I particularly love how well-written and researched your proposal is. Looking over it, I think your weakest point is your graphics. To me, Croptainer looks a little big and unweildly for someone like me going to the grocery store, and I don't know why I wouldn't instead use a net reusable bag for my fruit and veggie pick up. I do see potential in it for BTB; the brewing industry after all has a completely reusable BTB keg system that gets beer to restaurants and back; if you haven't already, I recommend checking out the key details of how their system works as inspiration for how Croptainer might work. Thanks a bunch.

Also, this is a bit smaller, but could I see some more graphics/specific facts (research papers, etc) that back up the small grocery store produce bags being toxic? Not that I don't believe you-I've read up on off gassing; I just think that specifics would make your argument stronger.

Spam
Photo of Camron Hinman
Team

Ms. Petersen,
Thank you for the feedback. I thought about that a lot. I did a quite bit of research on the individual customer segment taking it to the store. I had some feedback on wanting it about the size of the carry baskets. At one of our stores the cart hold 4 of those, and they thought they'd replace one, or in a traditional cart just set it in. With the circular delivery system model, I have farmers interested in using these to replace their plastic and cardboard delivery containers. I also have a local grocery store that delivers groceries to consumers that would consider using Croptainer Strainers instead. For the individual taking it to the store, I will find out soon as I run the pilot with the local school. The machine shop is using the lightest stainless and perforated for the pilot. I really appreciate the feedback. I'll try to add some of my research on leaching to produce. The heat during transport plays a big part. I will check on the keg system. It sounds like a similar concept. I don't know much about those since I am only 16:) Thank you again. Camron