A plant-based coating that reduces food waste

Photo: Ja Ma on Unsplash

Apeel A plant-based coating that reduces food waste

What is it

Apeel has created an edible coating made from plant-based materials which can be applied to the surface of fresh fruit and vegetables to slow down spoilage and extend shelf life. As well as reducing food waste, it also means that harvesting can be optimised so fruits and vegetables can ripen further and customers can enjoy better tasting produce.

Set up in 2012 with a $100K Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant, Apeel produce is now available in several categories including avocados, organic apples, cucumbers, lemons/limes, oranges and mandarins, and available at major retailers throughout the US, Denmark, The Netherlands and Germany.

Why it’s an example of the circular economy

Apeel’s coatings contribute to the circular economy by reducing waste in two distinct sectors of the economy:

  • By applying the coating to fruits and vegetables, Apeel helps reduce significant volumes of food wasted by keeping produce fresh for longer.
  • Apeel’s coating can be used to replace single-use plastic packaging, the default option often used by food suppliers to preserve produce.
With and without Apeel coating after 26 days
With and without Apeel coating after 26 days

How it works

The coating is made of plant-based materials —lipids and glycerolipids —that exist in the peels, seeds, and pulp of all the fruits and vegetables we already eat - creating a high-value product from natural resources. Because the materials needed to make Apeel exist in all fruits and vegetables, this can include the parts of the plant that typically go unused after harvesting, such as the peels and seeds.

Apeel is prepared as a powder and diluted with water prior to application. The versatility of Apeel means that the product may be applied using a variety of approaches, including: spray, dip, or brush on methods. Apeel provides both the product, and the service of applying the product, integrating the coating process into the supply chain of wholesalers and retailers.

“What if we could use food to preserve food?”

- James Rogers, CEO Apeel

With and without Apeel or wrapped after 10 days
With and without Apeel or wrapped after 10 days

Benefits in detail

Reduced carbon emissions

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest generator of greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, it’s estimated that about 30% of food that’s produced is wasted, which results in significant impacts on food security, economic well-being and the environment.

Applying an Apeel coating can double the shelf life of produce. Cumulative 2020 sustainability metrics for Apeel avocados alone resulted in nearly 2,100 mT CO2-eq of GHG emissions avoided — equal to planting 34,000 trees or taking 450 cars off the road for a year.

Increasing the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables can also have unexpected additional benefits. The prospect of applying Apeel to produce that is typically transported by air freight – such as with asparagus – would mean it’s possible to shift transportation mode to sea freight which would reduce carbon emissions in food supply chains.

Reduced plastic waste

Apeel has the potential to reduce the food industry's reliance on plastic packaging. For example, Apeel Long English Cucumbers replace commonly-used plastic wrap with the company's plant-based edible coating. For every 500,000 cases shipped, Apeel can help avoid plastic use equivalent to eliminating 1.2 million single-use water bottles.

No extra cost to the consumer

As well as maintaining freshness and flavour, customers don’t need to pay more for Apeel-coated products. As the product reduces lost stock through spoilage, the cost of applying the coating is more than covered.

Case study published May 2021

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