Project done in collaboration with Ethan Chow and Dedun Oyenuga
Over 10 million tonnes of food is wasted per year in the UK alone (source: WRAP), most of which ends up in landfill producing methane, a greenhouse gas 20x more potent than carbon dioxide. Currently in the UK, food contaminated waste in a recycling plant is removed from the recycling stream and sent directly to landfill.
This project is a redesign of ready meal/fast food packaging that encourages correct disposal of food waste, using natural and sustainably farmed resources. It is also a long term system proposition using developing technologies to achieve a fully circular economy.
How does it work?
'The Lotus Box' starts with the farming of lotus leaves using aquaponics. The leaves are shaped to size and used to line biodegradable food boxes. When the user has finished their meal, they wrap up the lotus leaf including any leftover food inside and dispose of the lotus bundle accordingly, leaving the food box uncontaminated. Either the bundle ends up in compost and the food waste decomposes with the wrapping, or the bundle ends up in general waste and at a waste/recycling processing plant. In this case, because the food is wrapped in a bundle, it can be easily identified and separated by workers, creating the opportunity to process food waste separately. There are currently developing technologies such as the 'Urban Bio Loop' being researched that allow food waste to be transformed into packaging. Theoretically, the collected food waste could therefore be used to make the food containers, closing the circular loop.
Why an aquatic plant?
Using urban farming practices on a naturally aquatic plant, the benefits from aquaponics are provided. 10% of the water is used compared to traditional soil farming, there are no toxic run offs or pesticides and it is a scalable system that can be expanded depending on budget and business.
Why lotus leaves?
Lotus leaves have a natural hydrophobic coating that prevents food contamination. Though there are other possible hydrophobic leaves such as banana leaves available, the time of growth of lotus leaves is very fast in comparison (e.g. 4-5 days to grow, vs ~9 months for banana leaves).
The systems shown in the diagrams above are used to convert biomass and food waste into the necessary materials for the food packaging. In the bio-economy model, biorefineries convert biomass into bio-based products; the lotus food waste bundles are converted into fuel used in the manufacture of the packages. In the Urban Bio-Loop developed by ARUP, biomass is used to make pulp for creating material blocks.