Published on May 21, 2012 | by by Felix Clarke


Stuffing your face with rubbish

Drink on shelves in a super-market

Is there really an edible alternative to plastic packaging? [Edward Swan]

Food and drink packaging in the UK currently generates around 6.6 million tonnes of waste a year, which costs £5 billion to dispose of.

A way of decreasing these figures has been desperately needed for years, and at last it seems a solution has come about: edible packaging.

Doctor David Edwards, the man who brought us Le Whif, the breathable, calorie free chocolate has turned his attention to WikiCells, an edible membrane made from biodegradable polymer and food particles.

In English it is the same substance as grape skin but can be made thicker and in large quantities.

Sugar paper might be cool, but it may have to step off the edible wrapping podium in the next few years.


At the moment, Dr ‘Dumbledore’ Edwards and his wizards at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have created a tomato membrane containing gazpacho soup, an orange membrane filled with orange juice, which, of course, comes with a straw you can eat as well.

Did you know?
The UK spends more money on meat than any other item, but wastes 570,000 tonnes each year.

He has also created a grape-like membrane for wine, a chocolate membrane for hot chocolate and the list could continue; he reckons any flavour could be possible.

He recently told student newspaper The Harvard Crimson: “In the near future we will be encountering WikiCells in restaurant settings.”

He continued to explain how he hopes to expand to specialty stores and supermarkets soon where WikiCells could be served as drinks, meals and snacks.

So fast food could get a whole lot faster. In theory it could be a case of straight off the lorry, into the mouth and there are plenty of others on the case.

Indiana-based company, MonoSol is developing an edible follow-up version of dissolvable washing detergent casings, which are strong enough to act as packaging until they touch water.

Things like servings of porridge and hot chocolate that you put straight into a cup of boiling water are being tested and the company is expecting to have these on the shelves in a year or two. 

The UK spends more money on meat than any other item, but wastes 570,000 tonnes each year.

In Leicestershire, a company called Pepceuticals was awarded a £1.3 million European research contract to develop an edible coating for fresh meat.

It could increase shelf life, reduce waste and remove the need for vacuum packing.

Hygienically safe?

However, the thought of eating something that has clearly been fingered by a number of people along the way can make your stomach churn.

How safe is this stuff?

Even macaroons with sugar paper on the bottom come in conventional wrapping so surely the same thing would have to be applied with WikiCells and the like?

Though they do say the more expensive a meat dish is, the more it is likely to have been manhandled, the same point about quality might not be true in this case.

If the next time the waiter tells you your sirloin has a ‘safe, biologically active, antimicrobial film’ on it, you may start to feel a little queasy and you will not be alone.

Even the packaging industry acknowledges the fact that there may be a psychological barrier to eating the box no matter how tasty they say it is.

Considering the hygiene conscious bunch we all are these days, the idea that you could put your milk on your cereal in the morning and save the bottle for lunch might only go down with a tree-hugging few and in some cases might cause more vomiting than viral sales.



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