Waste is an enduring and increasingly damaging global issue. We produced 2 billion tons of solid waste in 2016 and by 2050 this could rise to 3.4 billion tons. A 2015 study also found that just 9% of plastics produced globally since the 1950s have been recycled, with 12% incinerated and 79% dumped in landfill sites or the ocean.
As the world calls for more sustainable ways of living, various ideas have been adopted to reduce waste, such as the zero-waste concept which encourages reusing resources for maximum benefit, or encouraging shoppers to replace plastic bags with their own carry bags.
The latest revolutionary trend is the use of 100% biodegradable or edible packaging. Over 40% of all single-use plastics are used for packaging, used once and discarded afterwards. If easily compostable or edible packaging became more widely used, we would be able to greatly decrease the amount of plastic waste we produce, which would go a long way towards saving our planet.
One such innovative packaging has been developed by Skipping Rocks Lab, a startup from the United Kingdom. Their edible water capsules became quite a sensation during the London Marathon 2019 — one of the world’s biggest running events. Every participant got to try the “Ooho seaweed capsule” made from brown seaweed called Alginate which is edible and easily decomposes within 4-6 weeks. Skipping Rocks Lab aimed to reduce the number of plastic water bottles used at the London marathon, which was reported to have been more than 200,000 bottles in 2018. Ooho capsules can also be used for other drinks and liquids such as juices, cocktails or seasonings and are a good alternative to plastic bottles.
Other than the edible water capsules, another startup from the United States uses seaweed as an eco-friendly packaging material. In 2015, Loliware created edible cups from seaweed that tasted slightly sweet. They also added other natural colorants and flavorings from fruits and vegetables such as lemon, vanilla, cherry and green tea. After using them for drinking, the cups can be eaten like candy or, if thrown away, will naturally decompose within 60 days. In the past year, Loliware also created Lolistraw, the edible drinking straw from the same materials coupled with flavors such as mango, rose, orange and vanilla to get colorful straws that can be used for 24 hours and decompose within 60 days.
Thailand is not far behind. Kanjanaporn, a rice manufacturer and retailer company in Khon Kaen, creates edible straws from rice and other plant-based ingredients such as corn, tapioca, and konjac which is not only good for the environment but also for our health. The straw can be used for 35 minutes in hot water and over 12 hours in room-temperature or cold water without losing its form. It can be eaten once it has gone soft after submerging in water for 3-5 minutes or it will decompose naturally in only 30 days. It is also affordable at only 1 THB per piece. Kanjanaporn is planning to develop more colorful straws using natural colorants from local vegetables such as orange from carrots and blue from butterfly pea flower. It will also increase its manufacturing capabilities for exports to help local businesses and farmers reduce the use of plastics and even increase incomes.
These products are positive indicators that manufacturers have begun to see the importance of reducing plastic waste and making eco-friendly packaging for environmentally-conscious consumers. Moreover, Thailand’s government implemented campaigns to stop merchants from giving out plastic bags in shops and malls, which helped reduced more than 2,000 million plastic bags in the past year. The government also set the goal of stopping single-use plastic manufacturing by 2025.
Finding sustainable solutions to the waste issue remains an ongoing mission that will require time, innovation and collaboration between all sectors.