8 circular packaging to solve your problems with food waste
Updated: May 30
The circular economy is unleashing fresh ways to reduce food waste globally.
When thinking about food waste, we only focus on what we eat. But there’s more food for thought, like how our food is produced (i.e. agriculture/farming) and packed.
The ideal solution would be a sustainable packaging made from food or agricultural waste. In other words, circular food packaging!
Here I’ve mixed & matched some of the best examples of circular food packaging designs you should note down on your shopping list.
Before delving into it, let’s look at which are the problems with food waste.
The true cost of food waste
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the food wastage of agricultural products is costing us about £530 billion (as much as Switzerland’s GDP!).
In developed countries you can find plenty of food for cheap. Although this is a positive thing, it’s got a negative side-effect.
We may take food for granted and end up wasting too much of it.
Around 1.6 billion tonnes of food waste is generated every year in the world.
To add to that, the number of people starving across the world increased by 82% after COVID pandemic.
Besides the issues with food security, we need to consider the food waste impact on the environment as well.
But why is food waste bad for the environment?
Also, when food rots away in a landfill, it will give off methane, which is 34 times worse than CO2 for climate change.
And all this will add up to your food's carbon footprint.
Invisible food waste (e.g. food production) is also a big slice of the pie and it’s tricky to tackle.
Though we can do something about what’s just in front of our very eyes.
If done properly, composting is a great way to reduce your food waste.
So, how can we reduce our waste from food production and packaging?
That’s where circular packaging ideas come to the rescue!
But what is circular food packaging?
Sustainable packaging solutions for reducing food waste that are in line with a circular economy.
Keeping this in mind, let’s dive into some of the most succulent sustainable food packaging innovations you can use.
1. Pickled packaging
Can you upcycle your leftover meals into food packaging?⠀
Yes, thanks to TripleW.⠀
This Israeli food tech startup came up with a magic trick.⠀
Except it's not magical, but biological!⠀
The company is collecting food waste from supermarkets and restaurants surplus to feed them to a reactor.⠀
Inside this big cooker, they add a secret ingredient: bacteria.⠀
Microorganisms feast on food and, once digested it (or pickled it, if you like), spit out the basic component of polylactic acid (PLA).⠀
What is PLA?
SPOILER: That's not a fancy name for poo!⠀
Rather, it's a renewable bioplastic (sugar cane or corn-based) that TripleW will reuse to design their circular food packaging!
To close their triple loop, the company recycles waste PLA in their process.
Can I get my food in it? Not yet, but it’s brewing up!
2. Lettuce (reduce your food waste)
That’s exactly what Feltwood is telling us!
Through the recycling of agricultural waste like lettuce and artichokes, the Spanish startup is creating plastic-free trays for fruit and vegetables.
Their final creation ticks all the (grocery) boxes: recyclable, biodegradable and compostable.
Plus, Feltwood’s circular packaging process has got a bonus. An organic fertiliser as a by-product.
Can I get my food in it? Not yet. Lettuce be patient!
3. Milking food waste
Just like TripleW and Feltwood, Mi Terro is drawing a perfect circle: From food waste all the way around to food packaging.
They’re upcycling whey protein, a by-product of yogurt and cheese production, to create a home compostable, ocean degradable and edible film to wrap your food with.
The company is working with Dole Packaged Foods, a giant in the food industry, to commercialize their dairy waste-derived packaging.
On another delicious note, the Los Angeles-based startup is also turning expired or gone off milk into plastic-free clothing.
Can I get my food in it? Not yet, unless you wanna wrap it with their milky T-shirts...
4. Magic mushrooms
Circular packaging ideas are springing up like mushrooms. Literally!
The UK start-up Magical Mushroom Company has created a sustainable alternative to polystyrene.
Just mycelium (mushroom roots) and agricultural waste (hemp, hops, corn).
They mixed all together to get one of the best sustainable packaging designs to wrap food with.
And it’s home compostable!
Their packaging will magically vanish in less than a month. Believe it or not, it’s not a hallucinogenic effect!
After starting their production in 2020, the company will soon launch a new plant to churn out 3 million fungal packaging units per year.
A circular myco-spell to make plastic disappear!
Can I get my food in it? Yes, though strictly speaking, non-alcoholic gin is not quite food...
5. An invisible algae treat
After magic mushrooms, the supernatural show goes on.
Putting their "Foodini" hat on, Notpla has made packaging disappear!
They’re using seaweed along with other plants to create a biodegradable transparent film.
Although not made from food waste, Notpla packaging uses algae, which is a fast-growing and largely available raw material.
And you can also eat it! But you need to be fast as it’ll vanish in 6 weeks!
If you’re not that hungry, you can compost it along with your food waste.
Their first ghostly creation is Ooho. By providing these edible pouches for the 2019 London Marathon, Notpla prevented 200,000 single-use plastic bottles from ending up in landfill.
But it’s not just for water.
Notpla squeeze any kind of liquid in their Ooho sachets: ketchup, salads dressing and even cocktails!
The company has recently launched their plastic-free takeaway box. With a chemical-free paperboard and a seaweed liner, you can either recycle it or compost it at home.
Whatever you do with it, this eco-friendly box will eventually fade away leaving no trace.
Inspired by their circular packaging design, Just Eat is trialling it for their food deliveries in London.
Can I get my food in it? Yes, but you might not see it!
6. Cocky deliveries
AEROPOWDER is aiming to take two (millions tons of) bird feathers (out of the poultry industry waste stream) with one circular stone.
The result of this cocky mission?
Pluumo, the world's first thermal packaging made from surplus feathers.
But what’s so special about chicken plumes?
Keratin, a natural fiber-like protein with excellent thermal insulation properties.
That’s why Pluumo is taking over polystyrene in delivering temperature-sensitive food.
Can I get my food in it? Yes. You can also request a sample for yourself!
7. A decent packaging
After working their way up in New Zealand, this company travelled to the other side of the world to spread its decent alternative to plastic packaging in the UK.
And they’ve got a vegan recipe for their products.
Their takeaway containers and lunch boxes are made of bagasse, a by-product of sugarcane manufacture. Also, for their bags they use paper which is recycled or derived from sustainably sourced trees.
And they got you covered for drinks too. They sell cups, lids, straws. Everything’s entirely made from plants. Only for the London Coffee Festival, Decent packaging gave out 300,000 compostable coffee cups.
Just a heads up, though. You can’t compost most of their packaging at home as it contains PLA. This bioplastic will break down only at 60 degrees.
Yet, to make your life easier, Decent packaging launched ‘The Full Package’ in East and Greater London. This is a collection box you can find outside takeaways places and coffee shops using their packaging.
Once filled up, First Mile will bring the box to a commercial facility to turn the packaging into compost.
Pretty decent, right?
Location: New Zealand & UK
Can I get my food in it? Yes.
8. Biocircular plastics
If you live in Germany, you’ll soon lose trace of single-use plastic!
That’s because Traceless biomaterials are replacing it.
Starting from the recycling of agricultural waste (e.g. starch or brewery residues), this German startup has designed a circular technology to make a biodegradable and home compostable packaging.
Their process could slash carbon emissions by 87% compared to standard plastic production.
Films, hard plastics, coatings. They’ve covered them all.
Created with the circular economy in mind, their products behave just like plastic. Except they disappear without a trace at the end of their life.
Bioplastic (e.g. PLA) is better than standard plastic, yet Traceless materials are one step ahead.
Because they’re both bio-based and waste-derived. A biocircular masterpiece.
Can I get my food in it? No trace of it yet...
The end (of food waste)
There you go. A “circular-up” of the top sustainable packaging dream solutions to your food waste nightmare.
Mushrooms, algae, lettuce and other organic materials. A vegan recipe to slim your food wastage diet.
The end of your problems with food waste is coming soon!