Will biodegradable food wrappers wash up on Britain’s shores?

A new report suggests pollution-free packaging will be one of the big trends for 2018.

19 October 2017

It’s eco-friendly, made from seaweed and you can eat it – no wonder the internet blew up with news of Evoware’s innovative packaging last week.

The company is surfing a wave of publicity after winning a prize at the Circular Design Challenge, which recognises ways to reduce plastic pollution. Its winning solution? Wrappers that are edible and dissolvable – just add hot water. Oh, they’re also biodegradable.

The Indonesian enterprise is not the only one experimenting with ways to reduce packaging waste. A business called MonoSol offers “water-soluble film” for spices, oils, food colourings, cocoa, workout shakes – pretty much any products that might go into H2O, all in pre-measured doses. Then there’s Ooho, the product with the silly name that boasts irresistibly sharable videos of people tentatively ingesting water encapsulated by a digestible gel membrane. The same people have been investigating ways to use the technology to package sauces. It’s all very nifty.

Ideas like these are largely just exploring the market right now, but they are spot on when it comes to what people want.

A rising tide of consumer concern

Evoware’s invention is particularly poignant: what better way to save the sea’s bounty than with a sustainable solution to packaging created from, erm, the sea’s bounty? And according to market intelligence agency Mintel, preserving the purity of ocean ingredients will be one of four big trends in 2018.

While it may not surprise anybody that the average man or woman isn’t super keen on ingesting plastic, it may come as a shock that it happens pretty regularly. Findings by Plymouth University claim a third of the fish and shellfish eaten by humans contains bits of plastic, as the Mintel report notes. Yum.

It’s not a huge revelation, then, that almost three-quarters of UK consumers would like to be assured that what goes in their mouths has lived in unpolluted waters. That’s comparable to the 72% that expressed interest in items made from recycled plastic, though more people were excited about the prospect of getting paid to recycle: 79% of Brits thought incentive schemes sounded right on the money.

Sustainable solutions to preserve the sea

Around Europe there are already companies that are providing models for future environmentally conscious practice. A prime example is store chain Negozio Leggero, which has done away with packaging entirely; people just bring in their own containers and fill them with pasta, flour, fruits, cereal or any of the 1,500 other organic foodstuffs. Indeed, there are also a couple of individual shops in England utilising this concept, including Bulk Market in London.

Some manufacturers have begun including text on food packaging that specifies that the contents hail from clean marine regions. Other organisations are even giving cash vouchers or discounts to consumers who hand in their plastic and paper. In fact, the British government is currently mulling a similar concept called the deposit return scheme (DRS), which would enforce a tax on plastic bottles and cans; this sum could then be reclaimed if the refuse was dropped off at a collection point.

Brands that don’t get on board with helping to reduce the amount of plastic ending up in oceans may suffer as a result, according to Mintel. “We may well see social stigmatisation of plastic cups and cling film,” notes the report, adding that 2018 is also likely to see “more pioneering brands innovating with soluble pod packaging, and more retailers dispensing with it completely.”

One thing is for sure: the way we approach plastic is about to undergo a sea change.

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