Mind & Matter


Forest in a Box, Take Two

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The Life Box. One box = 100 Trees.


Since reading Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart’s description of seed-bearing, biodegradable waste wrappers in Cradle to Cradle, I’ve been interested in the notion of so-called regenerative design. Can we really transform waste into food, and how would a society that biodegrades rather than throws away or recycles its trash operate?

The Life Box might provide answers, as well as raise new questions. Made from recycled paper and bearing approximately 100 tree seeds—in addition to mycorrhizal fungal spores that catalyze seed growth—the Life Box is not only designed to biodegrade, but to grow a small forest in the process. Creator Paul Stamets and Planted Planet Productions estimate that one tree in 100 will survive to 30 years, sequestering one ton of carbon during this time.

While this creative idea certainly has potential, it requires consumers to rethink the disposal process altogether. Naturally, the Life Box won’t work in a dumpster—it will only fulfill its goal if it’s torn up into many small pieces, and these pieces are planted at an appropriate distance from one another in an area suitable to growing new trees. For those who own plenty of land and want to grow more trees, the Life Box is a great solution. However, the rest of us will have to save used Life Boxes for our next jaunt to the countryside for a bit of guerilla forestry. Clandestine regeneration, anyone?


Comments (4 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:10 AM Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    seems like a stupid idea. tree planting needs to be done with forethought based on species, climate, need, long term planning et al. indescrimate planting by a rogue populous can end up doing as much harm as the intended good, maybe even more. if you want to do this, stay within your own back yard and plant a tree that you want.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:07 AM Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    I think this idea has a major down-side in that it ‘requires consumers to rethink the disposal process altogether’. We (the public) haven’t gotten to where we need to be in our existing disposal/recycling process. In order for recycling programs to be successful for more than just environmentalists they must be convenient. Single Stream recycling is a good example of the convenience that gets ordinary people to recycle more. The majority of the American public (i.e. consumers) have not begun to ‘think’ about recycling and are therefore not ready to ‘re-think’ it. Changing it up and telling people that some cardboard is okay to throw away, now, would create confusion and ultimately apathy. To keep it simple: -recycle cardboard and increase the amount of recycled content packaging avaialable to counsumers -plant trees in a deliberate and thoughful manner We haven’t perfected these two things individually. I don’t believe we are ready to combine them.

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  • Posted by: boerneliberal | Time: 3:04 PM Monday, July 12, 2010

    Yes...definitely need to know the species and the climate range necessary for survival. It's a great idea...but would probably be better if the seeds and "mycorrhizal fungal spores" we placed inside a "packing peanut" type of carrier...easier to carry in a backpack or bag...easier to distribute...HEY out there UPS, FEXEX and Amazon etc...how 'bout it?

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:23 PM Monday, July 12, 2010

    What concerns me about this idea is so much need to self police, I mean it could look like deliberate littering and what about tree species? You can't just plant any tree in any forrest. The US Forest Service may have some concerns with this.

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.