Here’s a sobering thought. According to estimates, there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.
A plastics epidemic is sweeping the globe and something is being done about other than your typical recycling efforts.
We are replacing single use plastics with edible and/or bio-degradable look-alikes.
So now, the cutlery that we use to eat food with become part of our meals. Even the film with which we package foods can be a yummy treat.
Yummy is key, as it turns out.
It’s an inescapable element of the new edibles for them to be a success with us.
But first, let’s quantify the problem
Plastics: A global problem
Ninety-one percent of plastic globally is not recycled and around 60% of all the plastic we’ve produced since the start of its mass production in the 1950s remains somewhere on our planet today. Much of the problem is due to single-use plastics, such as food packaging and cutlery.
Around the world, a million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, according to the Guardian (most of which go unrecycled).
From spewing vast amounts of carbon emissions during its creation, to clogging waterways, to killing marine life, to jamming landfills (where some plastics leach chemicals over time), the mass production and improper disposal of plastic products hurts our natural environment.
It is estimated around 5.7 million tons of cabin waste, including single-use plastic, earphones and food waste, is generated on passenger flights every year.
If passengers at Heathrow Airport departures lounges refilled bottles from water fountains, instead of buying plastic bottles, the airport said it could reduce its plastic bottle consumption by 35 million a year.
Cabin Crew: “Are you done eating your tray yet?”
Say hello to plastic-free, edible flight meal trays designed to reduce airline waste.
Some partially edible, plastic-free in-flight meal trays are made from used coffee grounds, and could comprise a side dish lid made of algae or banana leaf, and a spork – which replaces single-use knives, forks and spoons – made from coconut wood.
Instead of plastic containers for milk or sauces could be edible pods made from soluble seaweed.
Design studio PriestmanGoode, who developed the trays, said they are currently in discussions with airlines and rail companies.
A package meal
Packaging is now used with fruit snacks and frozen desserts from Incredible Foods.
Then last year, researchers led by Professor Indrawati Oey at the University of Otago, New Zealand, started tests on their biodegradable, edible wrapping whipped up from corn and seafood by-products, zein and chitosan.
“We have developed a hundred different formulations with different applications,” she says. “The more we develop our technique, the more we see opportunities beyond our original plans.”
A host of researchers have long been tapping into the global dairy industry and developing milk-based edible food packaging.
For example, researchers from India’s National Dairy Research Institute in Bengaluru have developed films from the milk protein, casein, and whey protein concentrate (WPC) as a wrap for cheese.
France-based Lactips recently unveiled a water-soluble film from casein that is produced as small pellets and can be processed on existing plastic lines.
The film takes just three weeks to biodegrade.
Potato Plastic began as a thesis project for Pontus Törnqvist, who discovered, upon spilling starch and water on his kitchen table, that the fluid dried into a plastic-like film. He describes this as the “lucky mistake” that led to Potato Plastic’s eventual development.
However, not everyone is going to want to eat their packaging.
Many edible plastics are billed as “tasteless,” and users of early models of edible spoons sometimes reported a strange taste.
Some edible plastics companies have countered this by intentionally flavoring their products, like Loliware‘s flavored cocktail cups, made from a seaweed base.
Food is also not just taste. It is also in the presentation. A fork is a fork. It will never look like a throbbing steak on a skillet.
Global companies committed to reducing plastics
One leader is IKEA, which recently committed to transition much of its plastic packaging to a mushroom-based renewable alternative that can grow in a controlled environment, and, like plastic, be easily formed into shapes.
If kept dry, this “MycoComposite” can be used over and over. It can also decompose fully in just 30 days. Producing the material uses only 12% of the energy required to make the same amount of plastic, and with 90% lower carbon emissions.
They are also ditching the use of plastic bags. Starting in 2020, the company’s 363 outlets worldwide will be eliminating everything from single-use plastic plates, drink stirrers, cups, tableware and straws to freezer bags, garbage bags, and packaging.
Another step in the right direction is Mattel’s recent commitment to use 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastics materials in both its products and packaging by 2030. Early in 2020 the company will debut its first product aligned with this new goal, the Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack, made from sugarcane-based plastics and packaged in 100% recycled or sustainably sourced material.