Are You ‘Eco’ Enough to Eat Your Own Packaging?

By Tom Szaky, TreeHugger

This is a guest post from Tom Szaky, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of TerraCycle, which provides free waste collection, and then turns that waste into sustainable products.

When I was young, an older schoolmate told me paper gum wrappers were edible. She said that if you pop the whole stick in your mouth, wrapper and all, the paper would just disappear. Later that night, I unwrapped a stick of gum and suspiciously put only the wrapper in my mouth. I waited and chewed a bit, but it didn’t dissolve. It seems my schoolmate was either mashing up the paper wrapper in the stick of gum and didn’t notice a difference or she was just messing with me.

I thought of the gum wrapper when I read this article about WikiCells, a form of edible packaging developed by Harvard professor David Edwards. Unlike the flavorless, “disappearing” gum wrapper, WikiCells add flavor and nutrients that compliment whatever is contained inside. According to WikiCells, “This skin may be comprised primarily of small particles of chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, or many other natural substances.” They are mainly used to package soft foods, such as ice cream, yogurt, cheese or beverages.

This got me thinking about using edible packaging for more than just soft foods. A lot of things have been made in edible versions – necklaces, tableware, undergarments, even shoes – but they are mostly novelty items or prototypes that haven’t taken hold in a meaningful way.

When most people throw away trash, they think it will break down in a landfill eventually. The truth is that most of what we throw away will still be sitting in a landfill hundreds of years after we’re gone. What if we, as consumers, were responsible for breaking down some of our packaging at home by eating it? Unlike composting, you don’t need any extra space, time or skills to do it. You simply do something you’ve been doing since birth – eat. The packaging would have to be washable, like fruit skin, and nutritionally neutral. Edible packaging could be flavorless, like the gum wrapper, or flavored, like the WikiCells. Flavor would become another be carefully considered characteristic of packaging, just like logos, colors and label design.

At TerraCycle, we directly reuse packaging, we upcycle packaging and we recycle packaging. I’d love to add a fourth solution and pile edible packaging on desks for employees to nosh on throughout the day.

What if, instead of sending chip bags to TerraCycle through the Chip Bag Brigade, you could eat the bag at home to prevent it from going to a landfill? What if, after your baby ate Sprout Foods baby food, you ate the pouch it came in, making the meal zero-waste with minimal extra work? Would you do it?


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Warren Webber
Warren Webber3 years ago

Live long and prosper

Shanti S.
S S4 years ago

Thank you.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Dale Overall

Intriguing idea, but can you saute it and add herbs for flavour?
Not being entirely sure of what the packaging consists of and if there are any chemicals or other toxins used in the packaging and where it has been sitting for months in warehouses, mingling with perhaps a few rats and mice scurrying or snoozing on top and who has handled it beforehand it may be difficult to make pita bag chips out of the packaging.

Laura S.
Laura S5 years ago

To Barb H., as one of those people who actually tried to compost a Sunchips bag because I desparately wanted it to work, I have to take issue with your statement about "whiners". Those bags were discontinued for a couple of reasons. Yes, because people said they were loud (they were), but also because they were only compostable in those large, municipal composting facilities that accept household waste. Those are few and far between. If your community has one, good for you. I hope you take advantage of it. My community does not compost anything besides yard waste - leaves, grass clippings and small twigs.

The bags were labeled with fine print somewhere that they were not able to be composted in a home compost bin, but that was often missed by most consumers. I was one of them. I cut my bag into ribbons, mixed it in with my other kitchen waste and waited for months for those ribbons to do something.They did not. And when I went to use that compost, I had to first pick out those shiny ribbons of Sunchip bag before I could add it to my garden. People complained about the false advertising about the bags being compostable And THAT"S why they were discontinued.

Karen Martinez
Karen Martinez5 years ago

That's why you shop at the farmer's market and take your own basket instead of using the plastic bag things from the grocery store...buying in bulk and taking your own container works as well. Better yet, growing your own and preserving using re-useable canning jars also alleviates the problem! Interesting article. Don't believe I'd want to eat a wrapper that has been handled by every goofball and his/her brother!

Nancy Hatcher
Nancy Hatcher5 years ago

They would have to make sure it could be sanitised before I would be willing to eat the packaging.

It sounds like a great and wonderful idea but for now I'm going to have to stick with reduce, recycle and reuse.

paul m.
paul m5 years ago

No ,,,,Be great, I don't want the food, just give me the packaging...Yum..

Barb Hansen
Ba H5 years ago

absolutely not! the point of packaging to protect the food item from dirt, germs, other people's hands... i do agree it should be easier to break down. i loved the Sunchips idea of the compostable bag. too bad the closed minded whiners out there deemed the the bag "too loud" and the company discontinued them.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago

NO, thanks