As a good citizen of the planet, you might recycle the wrappers encasing your food. But would you actually eat them?
In an effort to reduce the 70 million tons of packaging waste building up in U.S. landfills each year, several groups are making it possible to do just that by creating food wrappers and containers that are edible, soluble and even flavorful. Imagine drinking from a cup and then eating the cup itself--flavored with lemon or lime, like a gummi bear--for dessert. Or dropping a packet of cocoa into hot water and watching its plastic-like casing dissolve. Companies like Indiana's MonoSol are aiming to get that tech into stores by 2013.
But first they'll have to convince a world of consumers that it's O.K. to eat the wrapper. One selling point: edible packaging has roots in nature. Apples and grapes, for example, come encased in protective layers, and we're fine munching through them. With that in mind, David Edwards, a biomedical engineer at Harvard University, created WikiCells, a pliable skin that combines small particles of dried fruit, chocolate shavings or other edibles and is held together by electrostatic force. (Samples of WikiCells-wrapped ice cream are available at the Lab Store in Paris; it will be for sale there this fall.) MonoSol's film, which is being tested with everything from drink powders (left) to oatmeal, is made from the same kinds of polymers drug companies use to cover pills. "We're not using anything that hasn't been used for human consumption before," says Sumeet Kumar, senior manager of technical marketing at MonoSol. And New York City--based Loliware's edible, biodegradable cups (above) are molded from natural pectins and cane juice, then infused with flavors.
Of course, for food-safety purposes, many of these products must still be packaged in nonedible containers for shipping and storage to keep the edible parts clean. Still, the eco-savings are significant, as are the creative packing possibilities. "Eventually all packaging should be edible," says Edwards, who adds that it's the best way to make the process sustainable.
Better Birth Control--For Men
Skin patches are the new condoms. Or so hopes a group of scientists who unveiled a potential new form of male birth control during a recent medical conference. Inspired by female hormone patches, which lower fertility by releasing estrogen and progestin, they developed a similar product for men, infused with testosterone and progestin.
And it appears to work. After 20 weeks, roughly 90% of the 56 men who donned the dual-hormone patch had sperm counts low enough to prevent pregnancy during intercourse, compared with 23% of the men in a testosterone-only control group. That's good news for would-be users, since the testosterone-progestin combo has been available only in shots, implants and pills. The patches won't prevent STDs but are far easier to use, so men would be more likely to take advantage of them--assuming that they don't balk at the idea of more birth control.
'They swallowed our story, hook, line and sinker.'