A new type of packaging is being made from milk proteins, and yes, it’s completely edible.
Researchers say the packaging can be used for some of the most environmentally harmful plastic waste such as coffee pods, instant ramen, and cheese wrappers.
The edible packaging, which was shown at the American Chemical Society’s 252nd National Meeting & Exposition this week, is a small thin film that looks a lot like plastic. Yet it completely dissolves into coffee, hot soup, or can be snacked upon as is. It’s derived from casein — a protein found in milk.
Cheese lovers can rejoice, too! The edible packaging is 500 times more effective at keeping oxygen away from food. Though we love cheese in it’s naturally stinky state, it can experience harmful bacteria growth when exposed to oxygen, which makes more than 48 million people sick each year in the U.S. alone.
Other edible packaging is already being shipped around the world such as edible utensils in India, coffee cups at KFC, and more. There’s also Ecovative — biodegradable mushroom packaging — not a product you want to eat though.
Read More: Eat Your Spoon, Save the World
How is this different from other edible packaging already on the market? It keeps food fresh longer, thanks to having much smaller pores than traditional packaging, which is most often made from starch. This lets in less air, so food doesn’t oxidize as quickly.
“The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain,” said lead researcher Peggy Tomasula.
If you love crunchy cereal, researchers have also created a spray version to prevent milk from penetrating your breakfast.
But best of all, this edible packaging could help the environment.
Aside from keeping food fresher, casein also combats another form of food waste. The US already overproduces milk, and this product puts it to good use. This edible packaging can actually cut down on milk waste, making it sustainable and edible, according to research chemical engineer Laetitia M. Bonnaillie, who helped develop the packaging. On a global scale, this could be a huge way to cut down on plastic packaging.
As developing countries grow their economies, more people will be accessing globalized food systems, and sending food all over the world wrapped in traditional plastic is not something the world can afford.
Producing plastic for shipping and wrapping up food also requires pulling petroleum from underneath Earth’s surface, causing more environmental damage which then merely ends up in landfills.
Right now, few people can afford to live a life free of waste. It’s expensive, time-consuming and it seems as though everything is wrapped in plastic. Though we applaud and admire those who are doing it (Thank you, Lauren Singer!), the best way to create change is by making edible packaging the norm.
While the packaging still needs to be protected from bacteria and other harmful pathogens during shipping and while sitting in stores, it will greatly reduce the amount of plastic packaging used today. For example, ever noticed how instant noodles are wrapped in cardboard, plastic, and styrofoam? Imagine the impact of cutting down just one of those wrappers.
You can look for this packaging in stores as early as the next three years. So raise your glass (chopsticks, fork, or spoon) to a future with edible packaging for all food products.
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