The new in-flight tray that reduces plastic waste

23 September 2019 by Grace Coleman
blog author

A global design company has invented a partially edible food tray for flights that is plastic-free to highlight another way of reducing waste.

The innovation in the fight against single-use plastic is the latest idea from London-based PriestmanGoode, the travel and transport design specialists.  The firm has collaborated with some of the world’s best airlines on cabin interiors and innovative seating concepts, including Airbus, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and United Airlines.

The company wanted to look at ideas to help move towards a more conscious way to travel and the flight tray, which is currently on display as part of a museum exhibition, has been made from old coffee grounds to cut the waste sent to landfill because of air travel.

The stream-lined tray is biodegradable and partially edible, with prototype materials including algae, bamboo and rice husk. The lid is made from wafer and the soluble capsules for sauces and milk are also edible.

The base dishes are made from 100 per cent wheat bran which is hard in texture so unlikely to actually be consumed, although the thought process is that the items can be treated as food waste as they are biodegradable and/or commercially compostable.

The tray is composed of the following materials:

  • Tray – coffee ground and husks mixed with lignin binder (rotable)

  • Base dishes – wheat bran (rotable)

  • Side dish lid – algae or banana leaf

  • Dessert lid – wafer

  • Spork – coconut wood (rotable)

  • Capsules (sauces, milk) – soluble seaweed

  • Cup outer – rice husk with PLA binder (rotable)

  • Cup liner – algae

  • Hot main meal lid – bamboo

The main meal lid holds all waste items and then closes into a compostable pack, for more efficient disposal.

It is estimated that 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste is generated on passenger flights a year, which ranges from single-use plastic to amenity kits, earphones and food waste.

The tray forms part of an exhibition called ‘Get Onboard: Reduce. Reuse. Rethink’ which aims to rethink personal behaviour patterns and the products and infrastructure that make up our journeys.

The EU commissioned a research paper which studied tourist behaviour and environmental issues, which noted people’s intent to pursue sustainable behaviours differed from their actual actions. The latter was understood to be caused by both external factors like availability of resources during the travel experience, as well as internal factors like the belief that one person cannot make a difference.

Jo Rowan, associate strategy director at PriestmanGoode, said: “Design is about using creative thinking and problem solving to look at how we can make things better, how to minimise resources and waste, and how we can encourage change in consumer behaviour.

“PriestmanGoode has been at the forefront of aviation design for the last 20 years, working with the world’s leading airlines, aircraft manufacturers and suppliers. Moreover, our expertise spans across the whole travel sector and includes airports, hotels and public transport. This gives us unique insight into and influence across the industry as a whole.

“We want to raise awareness of how much waste is created when we travel and explore alternatives that address the supply of products and services, but also what each individual can do to lead us to a more sustainable travel industry.”

The exhibition also looks at developments that suppliers are working on to create sustainable materials that promotes circular design and zero waste solutions, including materials such as ECONYL, a regenerated nylon yarn made from fishing nets from the oceans and aquaculture. Other materials include seaweed yarn and textile dye, pineapple wood, and tasman recycled glass.

PriestmanGoode’s exhibition ‘Get Onboard: Reduce. Reuse. Rethink’ will run at the Design Museum in London from 12 September 2019 to 9 February 2020.

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