Moving Past Plastic: PriestmanGoode Believes a Sustainable Future is a Varied One


PriestmanGoode has proposed a meal tray and reuseable water bottle featuring compostable materials. Images via PriestmanGoode

On a long-haul flight, each passenger creates an average of 1.1 pounds of single-use plastic waste. PriestmanGoode is challenging airlines and passengers to help bring that number down.

The average yearly plastic waste from travel-size toiletries in the UK weighs as much as seven Boeing 777 airplanes. PriestmanGoode’s ongoing exhibition at London’s Design Museum, which looks at how to minimize waste in air travel, is peppered with memorable statistics like this one, and for an important reason.

“We wanted to convey the information in a way that people can grasp,” explains Anna Meyer, head of Communications for PriestmanGoode. “Very often, we’re presented with facts that are hard to  understand in real-life terms. However, if you said, ‘One airline stopped selling duty-free on board and saved as many emissions as would be produced to power 2,750 households in the UK,’ information that was quite abstract to begin with becomes much more relatable.”

“You will always have people who need to buy water at the airport, but can you make that impulse buy a more sustainable one?”
– Anna Meyer, PriestmanGoode

The exhibition, called Get Onboard: Reduce. Reuse. Rethink, aims to get visitors to reflect upon their personal behavior patterns and is inspired by a paper funded by the European Union in 2017 that found a gap between environmental attitudes and tourist behavior. The study cites numerous reasons for this, from increased financial resources to the relaxation of  social norms that frequently occurs on holiday.

When it comes to air travel, plastic bottles are a point of weakness. Over 35 million single-use plastic bottles are consumed by travelers in the departures hall of London’s Heathrow Airport every year, something it hopes to change by partnering with Refill, an initiative that brings free water refill stations to locations across the UK. According to  City to Sea, the nonprofit that runs Refill, “Almost half of us that regularly carry a reusable water bottle say we are most likely to buy plastic bottled water when at the airport.” Add that to the eight to 10 cups or bottles of water PriestmanGoode estimates one passenger will consume on a long-haul flight, and the amount of waste passengers create soon piles up.

Image via PriestmanGoode

As well as increasing awareness surrounding travel waste, the exhibition provides more eco-friendly solutions to deal with passenger behaviors. “You will always have people who need to buy water at the airport, but can you make that impulse buy a more sustainable one?” Meyer asks. PriestmanGoode’s answer is yes, and it comes in the form of a bottle made of cork and bioplastic made of corn stover, a by-product from the farming industry. It is reusable in the short term, so customers can buy it, keep it throughout their holiday and then recycle it. “It’s also specially designed for travel and takes up less space in the back of the seat,” Meyer adds.

However, even bioplastics can have a negative environmental impact, with experts arguing that their creation requires large amounts of farmland, which diverts agricultural resources away from food production. Understanding this, PriestmanGoode’s exhibition showcases numerous types of materials for a variety of applications, including coffee grounds for a meal tray, algae for a cup liner and an edible wafer for the lid of a dessert dish.

“There isn’t one material that answers everything,” says Maria Kafel-Bentkowska, project head of Color, Material, Finish at PriestmanGoode. “If we want to move forward, we need to have multiple alternatives. It’s not about finding a new super-material, but about looking at all by-products and waste materials that we produce, and how these collectively combine to substitute single-use plastics, in order to minimize the impact on our resources.”

“Moving Past Plastic” was originally published in the 10.1 February/March issue of APEX Experience magazine.