Ishleen is a college student studying food technology. Enthusiastic about new developments in the food sector & sustainability.
Why do we need Edible Packaging?
FOOD PACKAGING AND RELATED PROBLEMS
Food packaging has evolved for a long time and it has allowed access to many foods year-round that otherwise could not be preserved. Food packaging has played an essential role in the development of the food supply network as well as the food industry. Packaging today plays an important role in the quality of food products by providing protection from environmental, chemical, and physical challenges. This protection can be as simple as preventing breakage of the product to providing barriers to moisture, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases as well as flavors and aromas. Packaging can block light to protect nutrients and colors in a product from deteriorating.
Problems with conventional packaging materials
All this points to the practical importance of packaging in the food and beverage industry. But as essential as it is, it comes with some downsides as well. The packaging that is most commonly used in the food industry is made of plastic which as common knowledge tells us is not good for the environment. Some of these packaging materials can also be harmful to health. Up until recently, most packaging materials contained BPA.
What is BPA?
It is bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. Research has linked exposure of this chemical to fertility problems, male impotence, heart disease, and other conditions. To top it all, as of now, 91 percent of packaging waste is sent to the landfills and/or in the environment. Reducing single-use plastics and increasing the usage of biodegradable materials is becoming a pressing need for the future of our planet.
As the world is moving forward in growth while keeping in mind the need for future generations' sustainability is high is on the rise. Consumers and Manufacturers are getting more cognizant of the impact their choices are having on the environment and hence efforts are being made to reduce this negative impact on the planet.
In cue to this rising issue, the focus has been shifted towards more sustainable solutions for packaging materials. Since it doesn’t make sense that a food item consumed within minutes or seconds leaves behind a piece of packaging that lasts for years in Earth’s landfills. So to tackle this problem researchers from across the globe from elite research universities have come up with the concept of "Edible Packaging" for food products that can be eaten or can be completely biodegradable.
Such packaging materials provide functions beyond the reduction in waste generation and traditional conservation and increase shelf-life. They help to reduce the waste generated by packaged food products, and in the long run, will have a huge impact on reducing the waste collected in our ever-increasing piles of landfills. These edible packaging materials create a very preferable alternative to single-use plastic packaging materials.
ORIGIN OF EDIBLE PACKAGING
Out of the many researchers who have worked in developing edible packaging solutions one of the teams at the U.S Department of Agriculture led by Peggy Tomasula developed an environmentally friendly film made of milk protein caseins. They claim these are up to 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food than plastics and because they are derived from milk, they are biodegradable, sustainable, and edible.
These packaging materials have been used to replace plastics in manufacturing wrappers and they are also used as a replacement to spraying sugar on cereals to keep then from getting soggy.
Ever since the concept of edible packaging came into light many products came into being made from natural substances like seaweed, milk caseins, and gelatin. Many fast-food chains have also implemented the use of edible rice papers which can be printed with edible vegetable oils that help reduce waste.
Bakeys a Company in Hyderabad, India created first of its kind edible cutlery using millets, rice, and wheat, which come in different flavors and a 3 year-long shelf life.
THE INSPIRATION BEHIND IT
While edible packaging may seem like a novel idea, it isn’t.
In nature and the world around us, all sorts of products come in their own protective skin. Most fruits like oranges and lemons come with natural protective packagings and other natural substances like eggs. So it wouldn't be wrong to say that nature in a way has been the inspiration behind the concept of edible packaging. There have been developments of films made from natural biodegradable sources that can be coated on the surfaces of fruits which help to create a protective coating and also regulate the rate of respiration.
The concept of edible packaging has received a great response ever since it first hit the radars of big food companies. In the year 2015 KFC launched edible coffee cups in the U.K. made of cookie and white chocolate and wrapped in sugar paper. There are many other examples of similar expeditions by fast-food companies.
Novel material for packing with multiple and diverse functionalities are currently being generated. Newer technologies include the use of edible packaging in replacing plastic water bottles. The replacement comes in the form of a droplet-shaped pouch of water coated handheld within an edible film made of seaweed.
Many bakeries and food joints have started using this technology to reduce their paper and plastic wastes. Another latest developments include waxy edible films for fruits and vegetables which enables their transport over longer distances keeping them fresh for extended periods and ensures delivery of a fresh and safe product to consumers. Researchers have made innovation after innovation in this area, and many more developments will soon be coming into the markets.
PROS AND CONS OF EDIBLE PACKAGING
WHAT ARE ITS BENEFITS?
Edible films, coatings, and biodegradable packagings produced from biological materials offer numerous advantages over other conventional synthetic packaging materials. Potential applications of edible films are numerous. Their advantages include:-
- Environmentally friendly, edible and sustainable
- Reduce waste and solid disposal problem
- Impart additional flavors to the food product
- Enhance nutritional values by supplementation
- Enable individual packaging for fruits like strawberries
- Can work as a carrier for antimicrobial agents
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS?
Every new development in science comes with a number of limitations. Some of the Limitation in case of Edible films and coating include:-
- Their added cost compared to cheaper plastic packaging materials
- Consumers are not yet comfortable with the concept of consuming a food directly picked from a supermarket shelf
- Not suitable at places which are prone to unsanitary conditions during handling
- They would require a secondary (plastic) coating to prevent contamination during transport and handling
- It can develop off-flavors.
These limitations are merely obstacles for researchers and drive their inspiration towards developing better and more practical solutions.
The earth has started to show signs to mankind that it's reckless behaviors has consequences. Developments like edible packaging are efforts by humans to tip the scales in an effort to restore the balance in nature, There is a pressing need for such developments and consumer awareness for such products, which will collectively pave the way towards a better and sustainable future.