Surprising alternatives for plastic packaging
Our expert's opinion
"That there is way too much plastic and packaging waste, that is a proven fact. But now there are such cool and surprising solutions! The coolest for me is definitely the edible water (Ohoo): a sphere made from seaweed that holds water, which means that it is water you can eat! But the toothpaste packets (Poppits) are also surprising.
Even Belgium is on board with alternatives for plastic packaging. The Belgian company "Do Eat" created an edible and completely biodegradable package for all sorts of foods. Moreover, there are edible variants of this, with tomatoes or potato starch, made by other companies.
For fruits and vegetables there is another solution as a counter measure against food waste, namely an organic matter turned into a translucent edible peel that prevents food from rotting as fast.
These measures are sure to get the use of plastic and food waste down. But we are far from where we need to be, because these counter measures are far from being globally known. If they were, the solutions would have a bigger impact and the landfills wouldn’t be as high."
- Nele Driesen, Associate Consultant
Have Your Food and Eat the Wrapper Too
According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), “approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean every year.” This plastic waste can take up to 400 years to break down in the landfill, harming animal life, polluting cities, or overwhelming landfills. To combat the harmful environmental effects of plastic, many companies are seeking to replace excess plastic packaging with edible materials. Using innovative technology and plant-based materials like seaweed, organizations have developed numerous packaging alternatives safe for human consumption.
To highlight these inspiring alternatives to plastic, Food Tanks brings you 18 innovations in edible packaging. These organizations are working to reduce plastic waste, support a healthy environment, and influence consumer behavior.
1. Apeel Sciences
Apeel, a translucent ‘peel’ that slows water loss and oxidation from Apeel Sciences, works to extend the freshness of fruits and vegetables and reduce the amount of rotten, wasted food. The California-based company, Apeel Sciences, used plant-derived materials found in peels and skins in creating Apeel to naturally lengthen the shelf life of perishable foods. The sheer coating keeps air out by acting like a second peel and is completely edible. Apeel is trying to reduce the amount of food lost for producers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers.
Bakeys, an edible cutlery company, was founded in India to try to provide a waste-free and chemical-free alternative to disposable plastic, wood, and bamboo cutlery. The founder, Narayana Peesapaty, created Bakeys out of concern for groundwater depletion and the danger of plastic toxins on human systems. The cutlery is made of a blend of sorghum, rice, and wheat flours, completely biodegradable, and vegan-friendly.
Coolhaus is a Los Angeles-based ice cream sandwich company that offers their creations in an edible potato wafer paper wrapping. While not all of their products are packaged in edible packaging, Coolhaus offers this potato wrapping as an eco-friendly alternative to their other plastic-based wrappers. To reduce catering and event packaging waste, Coolhaus imprints the tasteless potato wrappers with specific logos or brands using edible ink for each event.
4. Do Eat
Belgium-based company, Do Eat, combines water and potato starch to create a gluten-free, vegetarian, edible package for sandwiches, bagels, cookies, and other individual foods. As an alternative to plastic food packaging, Do Eat packaging is completely edible, biodegradable, and home compostable. The neutral flavor allows the packaging to be paired with savory or sweet foods and can be grilled with its contents. Do Eat founders, Thibaut Gilquin and Hélèn Hoyois, are attempting to change consumer waste behavior without consumers noticing a difference.
Ecovative is a design and packaging company working to develop, produce, and market environmentally friendly products to work in conjunction with the Earth’s ecosystem. The New York-based company begins at the cellular level by using mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus, to grow packaging for wine bottles, cold storage, or any product needing support. Ecovative uses various nutrients and environments to grow the mycelium packaging which creates differing strengths and flexibilities. While Eben Bayer, a co-founder, says the packaging is, in fact, edible, he encourages consumers to compost it to use as fertilizer.
A Mexican-based start-up, Eco Six Pack Ring or E6PR, is trying to replace the plastic six-pack ring that holds beer cans by combining compostable matter and by-product waste to create an eco-friendly six-pack ring. Plastic six-pack rings often make their way to the ocean greatly harming sea life, which inspired E6PR to create an environmentally and animal friendly product. These biodegradable and compostable ‘ecorings’ completely break down if left in the wild or in water and do not harm animal’s digestive tracts. The ecorings are also 100 percent edible, but the company does not encourage human consumption due to possible contamination on the journey to the retail store.
Evoware, a seaweed-based packaging company, works to reduce plastic waste by replacing plastic food packaging with edible, dissolvable, and biodegradable packaging. The tasteless, odorless packaging comes in various sizes to fit sandwiches, cereals, or coffee sachets and is customizable for specific colors and brand logos. Along with reducing plastic waste, the Indonesian-based company collaborates with local seaweed farmers to try to reduce carbon emissions, increase farmers’ incomes, and maintain clean shores. Evoware is trying to provide an eco-solution to plastic waste while improving the livelihoods of Indonesian seaweed farmers.
Loliware is a biodegradable, edible cup company founded and designed by Parsons School of Design graduates, Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker. Loliware uses seaweed, organic sweeteners, and fruit and vegetable coloring to produce natural, non-toxic cups that are FDA approved to eat. According to Briganti and Tucker, Americans throw away 25 million plastic cups every year which inspired them to create Loliware. Loliware is trying to change the packaging industry by providing edible products as a solution to one-use plastic cups. The company is currently in the midst of launching an edible straw with the hope to expand their products and decrease the abundance of single-use plastics.
Monosol, an Indiana-based packaging company, utilizes water-soluble film technology to create sustainable packaging that completely dissolves in water. A division of Japan-based parent company, Kuraray, Monosol partners with various businesses to provide an eco-friendly alternative to packaging of all sorts including detergents, personal care products, and food goods. Because the packaging is transparent, tasteless, and odorless, Monosol is trying to replace the wrapping for foods such as oatmeal and spices.
NVYRO, pronounced en-vi-ro, transforms Cassava plants, also called tapioca, into single-use biodegradable and edible packaging to offer an alternative to polystyrene and plastic food packaging. The Cassava plant is a sturdy raw material, which is then broken down and processed through thermal compression moulding making NVYRO’s products water-resistant for 75 minutes and oil resistant for several hours. Based in the United Kingdom, NVYRO offers a wide variety of products ranging from plates and cups to take-out containers in the hopes to replace current single-use plastic and paper goods.
Florida-based startup, Poppits, is a toothpaste company using water-soluble pods to attempt to reduce the need for plastic toothpaste tubes and caps. In efforts to eliminate plastic pollution, Poppits use food-grade edible film to house single-use toothpaste pods that completely dissolve when brushing, which are packaged in sustainably sourced, biodegradable cardboard and recyclable aluminum. Poppits inventor, Wayne Solan, hopes to decrease bathroom mess while providing an edible and environmentally friendly toothpaste package.
Polish design student, Roza Janusz, drew inspiration from vegetable cultivation to create Scoby: Living Packages, an edible, recyclable packaging, for her graduate project at the School of Form in Poznan, Poland. Scoby, short for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, is a growing, living organism most known as the membrane found in kombucha. Janusz uses extracts from agricultural waste to feed Scoby which then grow into edible and compostable packaging. Janusz wants farmers to grow their own Scoby to limit wasteful packaging practices and instead create zero-waste packaging.
13. Skipping Rocks Lab
London-based start-up, Skipping Rocks Lab, uses seaweed and plant materials to create waste-free alternatives to plastic packaging. Their first product, Ooho, dubbed “water you can eat,” strives to provide the convenience of plastic water bottles without the environmental impact. Ooho is a spherical, flexible package made of seaweed that holds water and can be eaten like a grape. While Ooho is currently only sold at events, Skipping Rocks Lab is working on getting Ooho into stores to help reduce the amount of plastic water bottles ending up in the oceans and prevent millions of kilograms of CO2 from ever being emitted.
14. Taste No Waste Project
Montreal-based anthropological researcher and industrial designer, Diane Leclair Bisson, uses culture-specific research to inform sustainable food packaging innovations that seek to change consumer interaction with food containers through the Taste No Waste Project. The Taste No Waste Project replaces disposable food containers with edible ones made from tomatoes to offer a possible waste reduction solution and a new gastronomic experience. By creating an edible container, Diane hopes to generate a more meaningful interaction with food and its packaging, which she thinks can be an agent for cultural change.
Inspired by the compostability of an orange peel, TIPA, an Israeli-based sustainable packaging company, creates packing material that looks and feels like plastic with one large difference: it’s completely home compostable. Daphna Nissenbaum and Tal Neuman founded TIPA as a potential solution to the world’s growing plastic waste problem. TIPA combines bio-materials and technology to create flexible, plastic-like packaging that is 100 percent biodegradable and leaves no toxic residue.
16. Tomorrow Machine
A Swedish design company, Tomorrow Machine, questions the lifespan of plastic food packaging through their own packaging series, This Too Shall Pass. The packages in the series have the same life-span of the contents they hold whether it’s juice, rice, or oil. The edible packaging for oil is made of wax-coated sugar, which cracks open like an egg then melts under water. The designers behind the food packaging series work to build a more sustainable world through research, technology, and new materials.
17. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Two chemical engineers, Peggy Tomasula and Laetitia Bonnaillie, of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in the USDA, are trying to reduce food spoilage by using casein proteins found in milk to create an edible wrapping product similar to plastic wrap. The researchers recently combined an alkali compound to the casein wrapping, which they state keeps oxygen out of food 500 times better than petroleum-based wrappings and is resistant to humidity, temperature, and moisture. Because the wrapping is made of the casein protein, the researchers suggest use with other dairy products or provide an allergy warning.
Inspired by the methods of nature, WikiCells are edible skins that encase food or liquids to create a protective barrier from the outside world. Harvard Professor, David Edwards, came up with the idea to use various natural food particles held together by nutritive ions to construct a completely edible skin as an alternative to plastic packaging. With the help of designer François Azambourg, Edwards brought WikiCells to fruition with the hopes of WikiCells products being sold in bulk, similar to fruits or vegetables, which the consumer could later wash at home. Incredible Foods commercialized WikiCells and now sell the products in the United States as Perfectly Free bites.