We’re a society addicted to plastic. Sure, more and more municipalities are outlawing plastic shopping bags, but we’re still consuming tons (literally) of it in other parts of our lives. Plastic is increasing as a portion of our overall waste and is expected to account for 12% of household waste in 2012.
It’s no surprise if you consider what we’re loading into our reusable shopping bags. Granola bars, juice bottles, pre portioned treats, sleeves of crackers, cereal, cheese, hummus, tofu, bread.... they’re all wrapped in plastic. All that plastic isn’t going anywhere fast - it just sits in landfills and floats in oceans.
Harvard Professor David Edwards thinks we can do better, and is proposing we displace all that packaging from landfills and into our bellies. Instead of packaging food in plastic, he’s developed WikiCells, an edible shell. The shell can be peeled off like a banana and then composted, or just eaten. The shell is formed when electrostatic charges are used to transform a sugar processing bi-product called bagasse, mixed with chitosan and alginate.
‘Bagasse,’ ‘chitosan’ and ‘alginate’ don’t sound much like food, which generally makes me wary. But according to Edwards, WikiCells are quite natural. “We’re trying to avoid any kind of chemical modification and just use natural processes and materials.” The downside: unlike plastic, this kind of packaging doesn’t have a comparable almost-forever shelf life. Its exact lifespan depends on a number of factors, including what food is being packaged and how it’s stored, but can range from days to a month.
I guess it wouldn’t be Costco-sized-ketchup-bottle appropriate, but that isn’t to say it couldn’t work for some foods.
Early customer reviews have been mixed. The public is hesitant to learn a new way of eating and drinking. Most people just couldn’t wrap their heads around an edible water bottle, though orange juice in an orange-like shell was slightly more familiar.
I must say, my original reaction to this was this is a Band-Aid solution – what we really need to do is just stop eating processed and package foods and tend towards whole foods that don’t require much or any plastic packaging.
In part I still think that, but then one food started to change my mind. Ice cream wrapped in an edible fudge shell. That’s right, an ice cream sandwich where the outside won’t melt all over you... they will be available this summer, though unfortunately in France only. Alright WikiCell, you might have a customer in me after all.