London-based design firm PriestmanGoode has unveiled a sustainable, partially-edible meal tray concept for airlines and trains as part of its latest installation at the London Design Museum, ‘Get Onboard: Reduce. Reuse. Rethink’, running until February 2020. The firm (whose existing clients include Lufthansa, Quatar Airways and United Airlines) seeks to reinvent the flying experience, and casts a spotlight on the airline industry’s hefty plastic waste footprint.
The tray itself is manufactured from recycled coffee grounds and husks. Food containers are made of wheat bran, algae and banana leaves, sealed with bamboo, while coconut wood is used to make washable ‘sporks’. Other features include: a dessert lid made from wafer, cups made from rice husk with PLA binder, and mini-capsules for milk/condiments made from soluble seaweed. This is further accompanied by a water flask made of compostable bioplastic and cork, designed for regular refills over a short-term period.
Although its products remain prototypes for now, PriestmanGoode is currently in discussion with airlines and railway companies with the hope of widespread adoption on flights and trains.
Cheap, lightweight and practical, single-use plastic permeates every aspect of the airline industry. Individual wrapping keeps food fresh, reduces logistical costs for sanitizing tableware, and enables security personnel to inspect items like blankets and headsets for tampering.
However, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airline passengers alone generate an estimated 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste each year. Initiating a holistic cabin waste composition analysis is tricky because waste is collected and managed by two separate contractors: cleaners and caterers. Moreover, recycling is precluded by biosecurity concerns from countries with agriculture-based economies such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and European member states. The majority of cabin waste on overseas flights is therefore incinerated, sterilized or tossed into a landfill. In the absence of smarter regulation and a circular economy mindset, waste volumes are set to reach 10 million tonnes by 2030.
The looming EU-wide ban on single-use plastic, coupled with a groundswell of public awareness over airplane pollution (‘flight shame’), has led airlines to make more ambitious commitments to waste reduction. For instance, Spain’s Iberia introduced 500 new trolleys with compartmentalised bins to separate packaging and paper-cardboard from other forms of waste. Meanwhile, Australian carrier Quantas recently operated its first ‘zero-waste’ flight in a bid to eliminate 75% of the airline's waste by the end of 2021. How else might the in-flight experience be reimagined with sustainability in mind? Or, are such efforts counterintuitive; encouraging a mode of travel that is largely – if not, fundamentally – unsustainable?