I pulled out the latest issue of Green Futures for a bit of light relief. It instantly lifted my mood as it reminded me just… how exciting sustainability issues can be.
Waste plastic bottles and cups are a major source of litter – most noticeably perhaps when discarded by hasty racers on marathon routes, but they also drift down water courses far out to sea, contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which measures 7 million square miles. To solve the problem, Skipping Rocks Lab, set up by three London-based design students, proposes ‘Ooho’: a cheap, edible and fully biodegradable packaging design for drinks.
Ooho is an edible drinks sachet. The drink is frozen and then surrounded by a membrane of sodium alginate and calcium chloride. Consumers can puncture this membrane to drink the contents, and swallow the membrane too. The process costs 2 cents per Ooho.
The innovators have made their solution open-source, claiming it’s easy to make at home, and so putting the power for plastic waste reduction in the hands of the consumer. You just pick up some sodium alginate and calcium chloride in your local drugstore or online, freeze the water, put it in a bowl with a solution of calcium chloride, and then into a bowl of fluid sodium alginate. Whether it will catch on remains to be seen.
Ooho is not the first edible packaging: Lavazza has developed edible cappuccino cups in Italy, working with Amarettini on sugar glazing, and WikiFoods, Inc. is now selling edible ice cream in selected Whole Foods markets in the US, with sales three times higher than anticipated. Its bite-size portions are packaged in a ‘skin’ which adds to the experience: mango ice cream, for example, comes wrapped in a tasty and nutritious layer of coconut.
Such designs could disrupt the current landscape of drinks containers. However, people need to get used to the idea of edible packaging, and this could be the biggest hurdle. Ooho’s designers are thinking of mimicking an orange to make their design more familiar and appealing, covering several bite-size segments with a stronger outside membrane.
With plastic recycling slow to reach scale, new packaging solutions are called for. In the UK, just 58% of plastic household bottles were recycled in 2013, reports Recoup. The fact that 96% of local authorities provide a kerbside collection service that includes plastic bottles suggests the problem is more to do with behaviour than infrastructure.
As Antoine Mahy from WikiFoods, Inc. says that how we transport food and drink is a critical question on the way towards a plastic waste-free world. A marathon, with thousands of runners and many more spectators, offers good mileage for the behaviour change journey. Ooho says its drinks can be infused with electrolytes to offer runners a burst of energy with their water – giving both the athlete and the innovation a competitive edge.
Photo credit: Skipping Rocks Lab