The future of food packaging?
Packaging, especially food retail packaging is a major environmental issue in the UK. Retailers spend millions in research on how to minimise packaging, and there are strict environmental regulations forcing UK companies to pay for the packaging they produce, to ensure that packaging is recyclable and is the minimum required to protect products.
A start up company in the US, Loliware, has launched a novel idea, the “biodegredible” cup. This glass-looking cup is both biodegradable and edible, so once you’ve finished your drink, you can simply eat the cup!
That’s the idea co-founders Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker are pitching, and with the cups being made from agar, a seaweed based gel, flavoured with fruit juice to make them taste pleasant, they could eliminate the need for disposable plastic cups completely, and even compliment the flavour of the drink they are holding.
Briganti explains that the problem with disposable cups, even those made from corn starch, is that they take months and sometimes years to degrade, often leaking chemicals in the process. "For every cup eaten [or composted], we are saving a plastic cup from entering the landfill," says Briganti. "Billions of plastic cups are entering landfill every year. If Loliware replaces even a small percentage, that would have far-reaching impact."
Edible packaging isn’t a new concept. In 2012, Leicester-based Pepceuticals won a £1.3m European research contract to develop an edible coating for fresh meat, designed to improve shelf life as well as reduce waste.
As with any start up company, cost is always a factor, and with a pack of 4 cups costing around £7, Loliware has launched a campaign to raise $1 million to help scale up production in the US and therefore reduce unit costs. There are also food critics and food safety regulators who are concerned about the fact that food packaging is designed to protect a product from dirt and microbes, and edible packaging may pass through several hands or be placed on surfaces or shelves before it's ingested. Having to protect a cup with more packaging would quite simply defeat the object!
That aside, it does create a fun and novel approach to packaging, which leaves no lasting waste product, and could even enhance the flavour of the drink it holds.
The proof may be in the eating!