Check out the trash collection area of any restaurant. The containers overflow with the remnants of packaging that once contained the food now found on the eatery’s tables and its customers' stomachs. More than 75 million tons of packaging waste found its way to landfills in the U.S. alone in 2010, Slate reports. A waste, but what's a person to do?
Help is on the way. Researchers are moving quickly toward creating edible packaging that consumers won’t have to throw away. A fast-food chain in Brazil, called Bob’s after founder (and tennis champ) Robert Falkenburg, wrapped its burgers in edible wrappers and encouraged its customers to just not bother unwrapping before eating during a one-day promotion earlier this month, AFP reports.
Bob’s — the country’s first fast-food chain, established in 1952 — was so successful at testing its edible packaging, at right, that not a single customer threw away the wrappings, according to PSFK. The Guardian, meanwhile, notes “two US companies (that) are currently vying to be the first to commercially exploit” this marketplace.
The first is headed up by Dr. David Edwards of Harvard's Wyss Institute and the second is Indiana-based MonoSol (tagline: "Convenience Inspired").
Edwards and his team have developed a type of edible packaging they're calling WikiCells, and he promised the Harvard Crimson in February that WikiCells would be found in restaurants “in the near term.” Since then, it has been featured on PBS.
MonoSol has found success selling detergents in water-soluble casings, and plans to use that same technology to create packets for hot packaged foods such as porridge and cocoa powder for hot chocolate. According to Fast Company, MonoSol is shopping around its technology to big food brands now.
Over in the UK, meanwhile, Pepceuticals just won a £1.3m ($2.1 million) research contract “to develop an edible coating for fresh meat, which the company says could increase shelf life, reduce waste and do away with the need for oil-based plastic vacuum packs,” the Guardian reports. Apparently, Brits waste 570,000 tons of meat annually. That’s as heavy as two Statue of Liberties.
Getting consumers to accept the idea of eating not just what's on their plate but the packaging it came in will take a bit of work, Karin Hibma and Michael Cronan of Cronan tell Fast Company. They suggest that marketers use the example of fruit having its own edible packaging, and advise adding nutrients to the edible packaging in order to make it an easier sell.
Until people get accustomed to the idea, though, the extremely eco-conscious may have to move to Austin, Texas, where in.gredients, a relatively new grocery store, doesn’t sell a single item in packaging. It's a retail concept that some call "in.genius."