Edible, Biodegradable Packaging
Wrapping food in plastic can reduce spoilage, but presents challenges related to waste recovery and recycling. It presents a tough choice for producers between prioritizing food waste or plastic waste, both of which are top-of-mind with consumers. For this reason, solutions that are biodegradable, recyclable, or both are gaining traction.
Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture have discovered a way to use the milk protein casein to create an edible packaging film that is better at preventing spoilage than regular plastic. The film’s small pores make it up to 500 times better at locking out oxygen, which can enhance the shelf life of food. Researchers added citrus pectin to the milk protein base to make the film more durable and increase its resistance to heat and humidity. The organic contents mean that the packaging can be eaten along with its contents, or will quickly biodegrade when thrown out.
“The coatings applications for this product are endless,” said Laetitia Bonnaillie, a co-author of the research. “We are currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers. For instance, individually wrapped cheese sticks use a large proportion of plastic – we would like to fix that.”
Some have speculated that the casein packaging might also help prevent mould from entering food packaging, which can be a problem with some plastics. Even still, milk protein-based packaging will likely have a higher environmental impact than biodegradable packaging made from waste materials such as crustacean shells or fruit peels. And since it is edible, it also needs to be wrapped in protective outer layers to keep it dry and clean, so it is unlikely to completely replace plastic.
Sources: Solid Waste & Recycling, Sustainable Brands