Biodegradable Plastic Wrap

Jacqueline Mullin

One trip to the grocery store provides a clear and frightening understanding that all foods, regardless of shape, size and variety (e.g. cheese, vegetables, ready-made items, etc.) come wrapped in plastic. The amount of waste generated by these items is incomprehensible and has been filling garbage dumps around the globe for generations.

Enter edible food packaging. A new product developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the biodegradable film is made of salts, citrus pectin and casein (a milk protein). Designed to not only cover foods, but also to extend the shelf life of fresh foods, the new plastic packaging has smaller holes than traditional petroleum-based plastic, allowing it to keep oxygen out thereby prolonging the life of the item.

Presented by lead researchers Peggy Tomasula and Laetitia Bonnaillie at a recent American Chemical Society conference, the milk protein based food packaging is being presented as a viable alternative to non-recyclable plastic wrap food packaging with it’s only draw back being that it has less stretch than the plastic wrap used today.

“Applications we are thinking of now are those little single-serve packages that use so much plastic,” Bonnaillie recently told CBC News. “If you have children, they love them. It kind of hurts to use them but it’s so practical. One possibility is to wrap those tiny snacks with our film.”

While not intended for human consumption, the film is edible. The casein-based product is not only a safer alternative to current plastic wrap, which is believed to leach dangerous compounds into food, but if marketed properly, edible food packaging has the potential to expand its reach to various target markets by offering flavoured options.

Expected to appear in the market place in the next few years, the introduction of biodegradable plastic wrap is a potential game-changer with the power to impact the environment today and for years into the future.