“next step has to be industry stepping in and changing the economics”
June 9, 2017 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Packaging Food With Food to Reduce Waste [The New York Times] “For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: Too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages. Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging. A growing number of entrepreneurs and researchers are working to turn foods like mushrooms, kelp, milk and tomato peels into edible — if not always palatable — replacements for plastics, coatings and other packaging materials.”
posted by Fizz (40 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
This post needs a soundtrack.
posted by jackflaps at 10:02 AM on June 9, 2017


Food in edible packaging?

This idea is not without a peel.
posted by flabdablet at 10:11 AM on June 9, 2017 [21 favorites]


Wait a minute. Chitosan is used in clotting enhancement powder (which I have had a chance to use once). Makes me wonder how well they will be able to harvest to meet both needs.
posted by Samizdata at 10:15 AM on June 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yeah, sorry, being serious for a minute. See if I can't get over that.
posted by Samizdata at 10:15 AM on June 9, 2017


My nieces will be sorely disappointed if this means peas and carrots touching.
posted by bonehead at 10:20 AM on June 9, 2017 [13 favorites]


I wonder how it might affect people with food allergies, sensitivities, and religious restrictions, considering that some of the materials described here involve milk and shellfish.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:28 AM on June 9, 2017 [13 favorites]


Because this.
posted by Fizz at 10:34 AM on June 9, 2017


More seriously, it's going to cause a significant issue with things like keeping halal and kosher, which I don't see discussed in the article. Chitosan derives often from crustaceans, and milk proteins, well. I'm sure gelatin (pigs, cows) will be contemplated too.
posted by bonehead at 10:36 AM on June 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


A team at its research laboratory in Wyndmoor, Pa., has developed a material from milk protein that can be used to line pizza boxes, encase cheese

And an inner wrapper for said pizza made out of........chocolate?
posted by strelitzia at 10:47 AM on June 9, 2017


Edible packaging, aka PIE!
posted by dazed_one at 10:54 AM on June 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


Isn't this what a burrito is?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:55 AM on June 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


I would gladly forgo those plastic bags for veggies from the grocery store if the cashier would just look at a bin and dial everything instead of manhandling everything.
posted by cacofonie at 10:55 AM on June 9, 2017


One of the local, hispter-ish food places I go to uses compostable materials for all their containers, including compostable plastics for cups. Obviously, not everyone composts, but those should at least be somewhat more biodegradable than petro-plastic/styrofoam containers even in traditional landfills? And if they really catch on, I'm sure municipal waste disposal services would be happy to separate out compostables and sell the resulting fertilizer.

That seems like it might be a more promising direction to take than wrapping everything in shellfish tortillas.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:56 AM on June 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


Pretty sure your veggies have been thoroughly manhandled well before they reach the checkout counter.
posted by dazed_one at 10:57 AM on June 9, 2017 [13 favorites]


Oh, and yes, obviously the idea of this is to reduce food waste, not just come up with friendlier packaging. But "we wrapped your food in week-old shrimp that you can eat" is a pretty hard sell.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:58 AM on June 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Lobsterylon. Prawlene. Melamilk.
posted by bonehead at 11:03 AM on June 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


The first thing that comes to mind is that packaging gets dirty. Why would I want to eat it?
posted by Splunge at 11:25 AM on June 9, 2017 [5 favorites]


The first thing that comes to mind is that packaging gets dirty. Why would I want to eat it?

Don't worry about that. We'll just surround it with a layer of plastic. Problem solved.
posted by Fizz at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


I make it a habit to buy fresh veggies without using the plastic bags whenever possible. But three days ago, I was grocery shopping at our local Fry's and saw three beautiful, red tomatoes packaged ostentatiously in their own plastic clamshell box. The price was on par with the other tomatoes I normally buy there, and I thought, "Woo fancy packaging, maybe they're better than the other ones," and bought it.

I sliced one up that evening with dinner and it was terrible. I don't think I've ever tasted anything more insipid. It literally had no discernible tomato taste at all. I died a little inside. The packaging wasn't there to preserve anything about the food. It was a marketing ploy and my subconscious self fell for it.

I remember when I was much younger, if a grocery store had bananas that were tinged with a greenish hue, folks would be disgusted that the store was selling unrepentant bananas. Now (kids, get off my lawn) the bananas are all vivid green and hard as a rock. They are, however, packaged in plastic bags. I don't know if it is to keep them from bruising, or to speed ripening, or to serve as a marketing gimmick. But I am tired of tasteless, unripe food in unnecessary packaging.

Farmer's markets are the way to go, of course. Take your own basket and load up on yummy fruit & vegetables that are glowing with ripe nutrition. But this is metro Phoenix in the Summer, and there aren't that many farmer's markets around. Good fruit & vegetables should need no packaging.
posted by darkstar at 11:32 AM on June 9, 2017 [8 favorites]


Well, "unrepentant bananas" was supposed to be "unripe bananas" but it works, so I'm leaving it.
posted by darkstar at 11:34 AM on June 9, 2017 [39 favorites]


“The next step has to be industry stepping in and changing the economics"

I'm pretty sure he means, "government stepping in and changing the economics through a proper set of structured tax incentives". The idea that industry will step in to change anything for any reason but profit seems like a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of market economics.
posted by howfar at 11:36 AM on June 9, 2017 [7 favorites]


The bit about milk protein being used is supremely depressing. It is insanely wasteful and inefficient to use milk protein when you can just use grain-based plastics and skip the middlecow. The only reason the article suggests it go into production is "because we're subsidizing unneeded milk production anyway" which is, you know, a much, much bigger problem environmentally speaking.
posted by phooky at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2017 [31 favorites]


It is insanely wasteful and inefficient to use milk protein

Was just about to post this. The bit about making packaging from mycelium fungus, now, that I can get behind -- I'd love for (say) all of my Amazon packaging to be home compostable (or municipally compostable, as a second choice). But milk powder? We should just have fewer cows...
posted by puffyn at 11:56 AM on June 9, 2017 [6 favorites]


Although, heh, just noticed the picture, captioned "A worker breaking up mycelium before feeding it into a machine", which shows the mycelium coming in relatively small plastic bags from wherever it was before on the supply chain. So we need to make those plastic bags out of mycelium, too, and so on...
posted by puffyn at 12:01 PM on June 9, 2017 [4 favorites]


Any single protein/compound that isn't coming out a gene-engineered micro-organism is inefficient, really. Macro-organisms, especially animals, should never be part of a natural products lifecycle.
posted by bonehead at 12:49 PM on June 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


The beatings will continue until the bananas repent!
posted by Splunge at 12:58 PM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I vaguely remember edible wrappers in the 70s, but then Reagan came in and nuked them all.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:41 PM on June 9, 2017


Vegan here. NOT loving this.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 1:51 PM on June 9, 2017


I wish more stores allowed you to bring your own packaging.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 1:53 PM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I wish more stores allowed you to bring your own packaging.


Bulk Barn, here in Canada has recently started to allow people to bring in their own containers.
“Step 1.
Before any reusable container is used in our stores, please verify to a cashier that the container meets Bulk Barn standards for use.*

Some of these standards include:
Is the container or bag free from chips, cracks, stains, debris, dirt, rust and residual food?
Is the container or bag reusable and designed for food?
Is the container or bag resealable, with a lid, drawstring or clip-closure?
Paper and plastic bags are not acceptable for reuse.
We reserve the right to reject any containers that do not meet our minimum standards.

Step 2.
The cashier will tare the weight of your clean container. This process is in place so you are not charged for the weight of your container.

Step 3.
Use our scoops to fill your containers with as much or as little as you want. Product scooped into a reusable container is marked for final sale and cannot be reintroduced to our barrels or tubs.

Step 4.
A cashier will be happy to process all of your purchases at the checkout. ”
posted by Fizz at 1:58 PM on June 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


My youthful paper-eating career is about to be vindicated. Bonus if the edible wrappers can be torn into thin strips first, which is the best way to eat them.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:25 PM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Just wrap everything in Fruit-Roll-Up wrappers. Problem solved. Yummy and delicious problem solved.
posted by Fizz at 2:27 PM on June 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Edible pizza box. Not so edible.

"While it seemingly eliminates the need for a cardboard box, that only holds true if the customer doesn't actually eat the outer "box," which surely will be covered in any number of germs and questionable substances by the time it arrives to their front door."

Ya think?
posted by Splunge at 2:43 PM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


One of the local, hispter-ish food places I go to uses compostable materials for all their containers... but those should at least be somewhat more biodegradable than petro-plastic/styrofoam containers even in traditional landfills?
I recently read "Rubbish!: The archaeology of garbage," published in 2001. It recounts how the authors and their grad students dug through old landfills all over the country as part of the Tucson Garbage project; they were doing it to examine people's habits, but I found it fascinating to understand landfills.

The modern landfill ("modern" being since 1960 or so) is focused on containment of trash, not transformation of trash into other things. It's basically a giant plastic-lined bin where air and liquids are not encouraged. Heavy trucks drive over it to compress the trash, and it is covered with dirt in layers. The authors excavated modern landfills in the mid-1990s and found things like perfectly readable newspapers from the late 1960s. At one point they find a whole meal (steak and a baked potato IIRC) that looks like it just fell off a plate-- they guess the meal is 7-15 years old from the depth at which it was found. Not even food composts in a modern landfill.

The one different kind of landfill they excavated was Fresh Kills landfill in New York City. This was a pre-modern landfill, built into a swampy marshland and having no plastic sheeting under it, and water leaches into the trash from the surrounding land, and was specifically designed because they thought the garbage would compost into actual land they could use/build on/expand the city. Fresh Kills opened in the late 1940s. The authors excavated an older portion in ~1995. Organic material from the late 1970s (dated by looking at newspapers) was starting to decay into the black, smelly, sticky slime that is the bottom ~10 feet of Fresh Kills. Organic materials from the 80s were starting to decay, but were still recognizable as "an apple" or "a paper plate"-- 15 years after being thrown out!

So no, putting compostable stuff in a landfill -- even a less-modern landfill-- doesn't automatically produce compost. We need to fundamentally change how landfills operate, or divert compost to actual compost facilities.
posted by holyrood at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2017 [10 favorites]


I know this is dumb. But.

I've long had a theory that a few generations from now, people will be extatic , over-joyed, that we've helpfully stored all these raw materials in handy dumps for them to mine.
posted by rebent at 4:21 PM on June 9, 2017


I've long had a theory that a few generations from now, people will be extatic , over-joyed, that we've helpfully stored all these raw materials in handy dumps for them to mine.

I've wondered what specific material will be what makes this feasible. A dramatic shortage of aluminum (to pick an unrealistic example), for example, would make it cost effective to start mining and sorting at least some landfills. But there are a lot of toxic materials mixed into landfills to the point that they would each basically be a superfund site, and it might take some very careful sorting and handling to be able to mine materials.

On the plus side, you'd solve any number of missing persons and unsolved murder cases as you unearthed bodies that had been disposed of.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 PM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I like to point out various landfills to the SO. See that mountain? See those pipes sticking out of it? Near the roads? Those pipes are for allowing the various gasses to exit. Know what? If you lit a lighter or a match over one of those tubes, 50/50 if it would just cause a plume of flame or the whole area would explode.

Hah ha. You're kidding. Right?

No. No I'm not kidding.

You are such a buzzkill.

Yeah. my fault.
posted by Splunge at 6:34 PM on June 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Our municipality really, really hates "compostable" plastics, because a) they don't compost under nonideal circumstances (i.e., normal conditions) and b) are easily mixed in with (and contaminate) otherwise recyclable plastics. They basically require a completely separate cradle-to-grave supply chain to be reclaimed.

But I'm sure nothing will ever go wrong with this new idea.

Honestly, I was more excited by a new idea for shipping less empty space in pasta packaging.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:14 PM on June 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Edible packaging, aka PIE!

This may have been meant in jest, but some medieval pies (though definitely not all and possibly a minority) the crust was as much a semi-edible container than anything else. You would definitely not want to eat the pie crust birds had shat on if you were doing a four and twenty blackbirds type pie.

Which if it tells us anything, suggests that edible packaging would be developed to be more tasty, to the point that people wouldn't want it to be in contact with dirty things and we are back to square one.
posted by Vortisaur at 5:23 AM on June 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty horrified by all the plastic clamshell packaging that's become all the rage lately. I mean, I love how it keeps greens clean and undamaged, but it wastes so much plastic.

So I was delighted to discover that in the Netherlands my favorite sprouts (omg tuinkers!) are sold in a cardboard box. I thought that was totally bonkers, but I put them on the windowsill and they stayed happy for nearly a week, I just snipped off a little when I wanted some. The cardboard didn't seep through, and the sprouts didn't dry out.

You can see what they look like here. And I guess here is a German version with slightly different packaging.
posted by antinomia at 4:48 PM on June 11, 2017


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