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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.