Consider all the problems we are facing with packaging waste, litter from food wrappers, containers, and paper that is being wasted from packaging materials. We have to throw away an enormous amount of garbage every day due to food packaging. Not only that, a large number of plastic plates, spoons, single-use cups, and water bottles are also thrown into the garbage. What if we could eat our food and eat the container as well? Have you ever imagined that? Wouldn’t it reduce waste and also solve many of the environmental problems associated with packaging?
Packaging materials and containers that we throwaway, such as glass, aluminum, paper, cardboard, wood, styrofoam, plastic and other materials end up in landfills, causing pollution. Some of these materials have to be processed, and some are not bio-degradable.
With the growing competition in food markets and grocery stores, some companies started making more attractive packages for their consumers. To distinguish them from other similar products, sometimes companies take the packaging too seriously. For example, one company peeled bananas and sold them in separate plastic wrapping; a total contradiction to the organic food philosophy. Moreover, natural skin of a banana is more efficient in keeping the banana fresh and safe for eating.
Inspired by nature, a latest technology called WikiCell was developed by a French-American scientist, bio-engineer, and Harvard professor, David Edwards. David was inspired by packaging found on fruits and developed this new technology of edible food packaging.
After an inspiring conversation with Ken Snelson, a sculptor from New York, about “tensegrity”, Edwards started wondering whether he could possibly design packaging for food and beverages in the same way that nature designs covers for fruits and vegetables. Next, he had a longer investigation with his students around the possibility of transporting water in similar ways as our biological cells do.
Edwards then teamed up with biologist Don Ingber and designer François Azambourg in his research, and the results were first made public in 2010 in Paris, during the 10th Experience Le Laboratoire (Cellular Design).
According to the food industry consultant, JoAnn Hines, “There’s a lot of interest in edible food packaging.” The WikiCell team has developed the technology even further and has come up with delicious flesh and skin for packaging.
The ingredients for the packaging are derived from vegetables, fruits, nuts, and even chocolate, and other organic elements. It contains only a tiny portion of alginate (algae extract) or chitosan (chemical polymer).
The WikiCells were typically used for packaging ice-cream, juices, cocktails, cheese, and even coffee. These containers come in the form of shells, similar to coconut shells, which are fully organic and bio-degradable. These containers are highly popular in Paris, since WikiBar made its appearance in March 2013.
However, the concept of eating the container your food and drinks come in isn’t a new idea in the USA. Chefs and companies have been toying around with this idea for some time now. Product designer Leigh Ann Tucker and Chelsea Briganti have launched a bio-degradable “edible cup”, because of their frustrations with the amount of plastic disposable cups and plastic packaging. They experimented with several materials in the lab for quite some time and finally created a cup that looks like a glass and also tastes good.
However, currently many of the skeptics doubt the long-term sustainability and cost effectiveness of these bio-degradable plastic cups. Currently they are being sold for $11.95 for 4, which is pretty steep for disposable cups. Cost is always an issue with a new product start up. Things always get cheaper as they become more popular. With mass production, the cost of these products will surely become lower.
So how clever is the idea of edible cups and containers? When you are finished with your drink, you eat your cup, or throw it away, and it disappears in the grass. If you throw them in the landfill, they mingle with the land, unlike plastic containers, which are not bio-degradable; a product that is fun and environmentally friendly at the same time. Chelsea Briganti believes that “Edible glass is designed to complement the drink so it becomes the twist to a cocktail. This fun twist on the cocktail might encourage people to use them instead of plastic containers.
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