You may have heard of the expression 'Have one's cake and eat it too' - Which means that people have to make choices and cannot have everything. However, this may soon be a thing of the past at least when it comes to eating and drinking, thanks to the new quest to create edible packaging.
While this may sound a little strange, there are a number of scientists and even companies working toward this goal, which if successful, would help tremendously in reducing the millions of tons of packaging that ends up in landfills every year.
One of the leaders in the space is Harvard professor Dr. David Edwards, who in collaboration with French designer Francois Azambourg, has established a company called WikiCells. Their mission is to take inspiration from nature's 'natural packaging' and create artificial packaging that is edible.
By that he means encompassing liquids or soft foods inside a soft covering made from edible products, the molecules of which are connected using electrostatic charges and mixed in with a tiny bit of natural polymer, that is tasteless and completely safe to consume.
For example, a container for gazpacho soup could be made from a membrane of tomato and basil, while hot chocolate would be contained inside one made from chocolate. Something like yogurt would have a fruity covering. From the outside it would appear to look like cheese, but when the consumer cuts through with a spoon, it would be all yogurt.
While this may sound like science fiction, WikiCells has already proved the concept and even sells some of the food at their experimental Lab Store in Paris to adventurous souls who wish to try it out. The main challenge in getting their idea out on a larger scale is to figure out how to preserve the food and more importantly, how to keep it clean - For now, they ask customers to wash their WikiCells food prior to consuming it.
Another company that is also making rapid headway into this market is Indiana-based MonoSol. Their approach is slightly different in that they are making packaging that dissolves in water. This means that their products can be used for things ranging from hot chocolate where users can simply put the entire package and watch it dissolve, to household cleaners. In fact, while the company still has some work to do on the foods, its soluble covering is already being used by Proctor and Gamble in the form of the recently introduced Tide Pods.
Ironically, the biggest challenge to edible packaging is not expected to be the technology but changing the mindset of consumers who are used to seeing their food wrapped and sometimes even double wrapped in all sorts of glossy packaging. But, given that about 76 tons of packaging makes its way to landfills every year, we do have to start considering alternatives and these sound like pretty cool ones to us. What do you think? Would you be comfortable eating the packaging that your snacks come in? Be sure to let us know, by adding your comments below.
Resources: Fastcompany.com, fastcoexist.com