Food packaging has had a huge positive impact on health and nutrition standards across the world over the past 100 years. With the ability to safely package and preserve food items, storage practices have allowed for extended use of food and the prevention of rot and disease along with the ability to transport food to places of need.
Unfortunately, mass adoption of modern food packaging has had a negative effect as well. Because food packaging generates waste, much of it plastic, this waste often ends up in landfills. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food packaging waste accounts for nearly 50% of landfill waste.
Microplastics and chemicals used in food package manufacturing are also increasingly found in living organisms, including humans. The potential for adverse health effects exists as a result, and this could lead to ongoing concerns related to the development of serious medical conditions yet to be discovered.
Edible And Biodegradable Packaging May Be The Solution
Although many solutions have been attempted to curb the problem of food packaging waste, edible and biodegradable packaging may be the answer. Current processing technologies have made it easier to create these types of packaging, and efforts are underway to normalize edible materials in mass markets.
What Is Edible Packaging Made Of?
Edible food wrappers and other packaging is often made of various proteins and carbohydrates. So-called bio-plastics may also be manufactured using biological compounds from things like sugarcane, cornstarch and seaweed. These materials can be shaped and colored in some cases to look and feel like traditional paper and plastic packaging materials.
Biodegradable plastics may also be synthesized in such a way that natural microbes are able to break down the material over time after disposal if materials are not directly ingested. The result of this degradation typically results in water, carbon dioxide and biomass.
The Benefits Of Biodegradable And Edible Food Packaging
While biodegradable food packaging is a more realistic short-term goal, edible material production is the long-term goal for many in the foodservice industry. Both solutions, however, provide a number of benefits for the environment, consumers, manufacturers and the foodservice industry as a whole.
The core benefit of edible and biodegradable packaging is sustainability in conjunction with a cleaner environment. Fewer raw resources are required to manufacture edible wrappers, straws and other items in many cases. Additionally, because these items are consumed along with foodstuffs, no paper or plastic waste is generated to take up space in landfills.
Challenges To Edible Plastic Inclusion Among Mass Markets
Despite the benefits of edible packaging materials, resistance to this innovation remains a challenge. Overcoming these challenges will be an area that manufacturers, retailers, restaurateurs, grocers and others in the foodservice industry will need to work together on in order to overcome.
Acceptance Of Edible Bags And Packaging
Some consumers are wary of new technologies, particularly when it comes to what they put in their bodies. To add to this, concerns of hygiene as they relate to the handling of food items, including edible materials used in the manufacture of packaging, are something that needs to be considered.
Design And Manufacturing Of Biodegradable Packaging Materials
Although the core elements of edible and biodegradable packaging may be simple, re-tooling manufacturing facilities and making adjustments to related supply chains can be considered an obstacle to widespread adoption of these materials among manufacturers.
Edible Straws, Plastic Bags And The Future Of Food Packaging
Despite the challenges presented, packaging made from edible materials remains an innovation that has garnered great interest in the foodservice and food packaging manufacturing industries. Development is ongoing, and it is believed that through intelligent marketing that focuses on consumer sentiment, most objections to edible materials can be overcome.
Although wrappers have been the main focus for edible materials developers in the foodservice sector, there’s no shortage of items that can be manufactured using this approach. Edible straws, bio-plastic edible bags and more can all be created.
Support From McDonald’s
To lend credence to the effort toward sustainable packaging, fast-food giant McDonald’s has committed to 100% conversion to recycled or renewed sources for all of its packaging materials by 2025. While this move does not involve edible packaging directly, it is seen as a step in the right direction for proponents of edible wrappers and similar food packaging solutions.