On its way: Packaging you can eat

Gregory Warner Apr 16, 2012

Sarah Gardner: I got some take-out the other day, took me five minutes just to get through all the packaging that contained my food. It was all boxes and wrappers and bags, and most of it was plastic. Which meant another five minutes figuring out what was recyclable and what wasn’t.

But a new kind of food packaging is prepping to hit the market. And as Marketplace’s Gregory Warner reports, it’s a bit of an “acquired taste.”

Gregory Warner: I’m gonna do something now that I have not done since sixth grade. All right, I’m eating a piece of Trident gum with the wrapper still on. And look — back then, as far as I knew, this was state of the art in edible packaging. Here’s what today’s 10 year olds can look forward to when they go into a grocery store to buy a bottle of juice.

David Edwards: It looks like an apple, looks like an orange, looks like a pear, but you can actually pick it up and wash it and stick a straw in it and drink the apple juice or the orange juice and the pear juice.

And then you eat the bottle. There’s nothing to throw away. David Edwards is a biomedical engineer at Harvard and the inventor of edible packaging inspired by the skins of grapes. He’s a sort of Willy Wonka of biologists. His newest product is ice cream in a chocolate skin that never melts and you can wash it off in the sink before eating it, skin and all.

John Kalkowski: You got to kind of wonder about how it might affect the taste.

John Kalkowski is editor of Packaging Digest Magazine. He says there’s a growing market for edible packaging, think of it as a step beyond biodegradable. Except, it is called packaging for a reason.

Kalkowski: The concern that I see is how do you protect the product when it is the product?

David Edwards admits there is a psychological barrier to getting consumers to eat the box no matter how much you wash it first. Perhaps that’s why his ice cream with the edible chocolate skin will debut this summer in Paris, a city famously allergic to germaphobes.

In Philadelphia, I’m Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.