As our society has shifted from eating whole foods to consuming processed food-like products, food packaging has become a major part of our solid waste stream. An unfortunately, because there are rules about what’s safe for food to be wrapped up in, lots of this packaging is difficult or impossible to recycle.
Apparently, this problem has vexed Harvard scientists, who recently announced that they have developed a food packaging technology that could eliminate the need for plastic containers, and we could see on grocery store shelves in the next 12 months.
WikiCells, the brain child of Harvard professor David Edwards, are “novel edible forms for eating and drinking transportable foods and drinks without plastic.” WikiCells consist of a natural food membrane held together by electrostatic forces and containing a liquid, emulsion, foam, or solid food substance possibly within an edible or biodegradable shell.
Edwards says the idea for this edible packaging was inspired by excessive plastic bottle waste. ”The idea was to try to create a bottle which was based on how nature creates bottles,” Edwards said of his motivation for developing WikiCells, citing grapes as an example of one of nature’s “bottles.”
WikiCells could be used to protect otherwise vulnerable foods, then broken away like an eggshell when it’s time for the food to be consumed.
Edwards team has already created a few imaginative WikiCells, including a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup that can be poured over bread, an orange membrane filled with orange juice that you can drink with a straw, smaller grape-like membrane holding wine, and a chocolate membrane containing hot chocolate.
For now, WikiCells would be a specialty item, used only by those who could afford and operate their very own WikiCell Machine. But in the future Edwards hopes they will someday be commercially available to the broader public. ”In the near term, we will be encountering Wikicells in restaurant settings,” he said. After that, Edwards plans to expand WikiCells to specialty stores and supermarkets.
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