Edible straws, packaging and plates are the next brand innovations in the quest for sustainability.

In line with a groundswell of consumer pressure and anti-plastic sentiment (and anti-waste sentiment, period), a wave of innovative retailers and designers are introducing edible alternatives to plastic straws, servingware and packaging.

The trend emerges as governments are also taking a more proactive stance, regulating brands, retailers and purveyors of single-use plastic items such as straws and lids and penalizing excess waste more heavily. In the United States, the city of Seattle and the state of California have passed laws regulating distribution of plastic straws, and the United Kingdom is poised to follow suit.

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Diageo's edible flavored straws
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Image courtesy of About Time Magazine

Several brands are embracing flavored edible straws in an effort to enhance the drinking experience while simultaneously working to eliminate plastic waste.

Diageo released flavored edible straws in August 2018 that are designed to complement the company’s premixed canned cocktails, such as a lime straw for its gin and Schweppes tonic and a strawberry straw for its Pimm’s and lemonade. In the same month, Starbucks introduced pumpkin spice cookie straws after announcing its plan to eliminate single-use plastic straws in all of its cafes globally by 2020. This follows Pernod Ricard’s partnership with Loliware, announced in April 2018, to create the “straw of the future,” and Herald Plastic’s edible flavored straws released in May 2017.

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Loliware edible straws

“We’re not telling the consumer, ‘Hey, you can’t have your straw.’ We’re providing them a solution to the plastic straw crisis while also giving them a fun experience on top of that,” says Chelsea Briganti, Loliware cofounder. “It’s not about the consumer sacrificing anymore, it’s about the consumer having fun and being sustainable at the same time.”

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Skipping Rocks Lab's Ooho! edible water
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Some of the more inventive designs aim to replace plastic servingware and wrappers with edible options. Skipping Rocks Lab, a UK-based packaging startup, developed an edible water ball called Ooho last year as an alternative to plastic bottles. The exterior, made from plants and seaweed, is biodegradable and edible. Skipping Rocks Lab has also partnered with UK delivery service Just Eat to offer edible sauce sachets made from seaweed. The sachets are available to Just Eat patrons during a six-week trial launched in July 2018. Biotrem offers a range of edible plates made with wheat bran, which UK shoppers can now find in zero-waste lifestyle shop ViMi. Belgian company Do Eat sells edible food wraps, sandwich rings and cupcake holders made with potato starch.

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Skipping Rocks Lab's edible sauce sachets for Just Eat

“There is absolutely no logic in wrapping something as fleeting as food in something as indestructible as plastic,” Sian Sutherland, cofounder of A Plastic Planet, told the Guardian. “Plastic food and drink packaging remains useful for a matter of days yet remains a destructive presence on the Earth for centuries afterwards.”

According to a July 2017 study published in Science Advances, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced worldwide since the 1950s. Of that, 79% has ended up in landfills or in the natural environment. Only 9% of discarded plastic has been recycled. The study warns that plastic waste is so widespread, it risks “near-permanent contamination of the natural world.”

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Biotrem's wheat bran edible serving-ware
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As consumer awareness of irresponsible brands grows alongside public outspokenness on social channels, many retailers and high-volume chains are introducing proactive measures to ward off criticism. Supermarkets are designating plastic-free aisles. Tech leaders Apple and Google are committing to eco-friendly packaging. Homeware giant Ikea is offering a range of cabinets made from recycled plastic. Brands from Adidas to Outerknown are innovating to create fabrics from reused plastic. What’s clear is that recycled and eco-friendly packaging, once a bonus, is now becoming table stakes. Innovative brands are investing in material science, packaging experimentation, and more, to impress their conscious customers.

For more on this topic, read our report The New Sustainability: Regeneration.