All You Can Eat: Can Edible Packaging Help Airlines Become More Sustainable?


Image: Evoware
Image: Evoware

APEX Insight: Could edible food packaging mean less cleanup for airlines post-flight?

Airlines spend half a billion dollars dealing with cabin waste each year, with most of the trash being traced back to in-flight catering. About 350 plastic cups are used on an average US domestic flight; nationwide, that’s four million plastic cups per day. When you include food wrappers, coffee creamers, and disposable plates and cutlery, the garbage really starts piling up. Airlines are stepping up recycling efforts, but they’re also exploring ways to reduce the quantity of plastic waste they produce, period. Could new edible options of storing and serving food redirect trash from the landfill into passengers’ stomachs?

Significant advancements in edible packaging have come from biotech companies like Evoware. Based out of Jakarta, Evoware leverages Indonesia’s huge seaweed harvests – more than
10 million tons per year – to produce seaweed-based packaging that’s so eco-friendly it dissolves in hot water. Evoware’s edible product line includes food wrappers, instant coffee packets and sachets for dry seasonings, and it’s all nutrient-dense, containing high levels of fiber, calcium, and vitamins A and C. In its base form, the edible packaging is tasteless and odorless, but it can be infused with different flavorings. The company also produces fully biodegradable packaging for non-edible items like soap and toothpicks.

“Being simply biodegradable isn’t truly sustainable,” – Ariane van Mancius, Now New Next

Ariane van Mancius, a hospitality marketing expert from Now New Next, says this type of packaging could be particularly useful for in-flight snacks: “On intercontinental flights, any packaging that comes into contact with food or drinks has to be burned, so it being simply biodegradable isn’t truly sustainable. What’s interesting about edible packaging is that passengers could be the solution to that problem, making it an appealing offer for airlines.”

“The challenge is finding an edible substance that will hold up across different environments,” – Ariane van Mancius, Now New Next

Other biomaterials like sugarcane represent an alternative to plastic but, unfortunately, they don’t always hold up when traveling between substantially different climates. “I tried a sugarcane-based tray, but it had buckled in the humidity,” van Mancius says. “Edible cups and cutlery made of sugar might taste nice, but they won’t necessarily last flying from a colder country like the Netherlands to a hot climate like Dubai. The challenge is finding an edible substance that will hold up across different environments.”

It’s safe to say that edible packaging is having a moment, and the idea of “waste consumption” is being turned on its head. As airlines continue to investigate ways to reduce waste, it’ll be interesting to see if garbage can become gourmet.

“All You Can Eat” was originally published in the 8.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.