Fun Fact: Your Food Might Be Packaged In Fungus, Lobster Shells, or Milk

by Michelle Guerrere

We’ve known for years that food packaging is harmful to the environment—it wastes energy, increases greenhouse gas emissions, and even hurts our wildlife. In fact, the EPA reports that nearly 45% of the materials that take up space in U.S. landfills are food packaging and containers (and remember, landfills are big contributors to air pollution). But finding alternatives for containers and protective materials takes time and money that large food companies don't want to invest. That is, until now. Most recently, Nestlé Waters and Danone announced they are partnering with California-based Origin Materials to create 100% biodegradable water bottles made from wood.

However, these companies aren’t the only ones switching over to eco-conscious food packaging methods. A recent article in The New York Times reports that the newest way to package food in an environmentally friendly manner is by packaging it in food itself. Forward-thinking companies are pioneering unique packaging made from everything from mushrooms to kelp to milk and even tomato peels (basically recycled food or parts of food people won’t consume).

And it seems some of these “ideas” just might stick. “I can even see a grocery store free of conventional packaging some day,” says Mike Lee, the founder of The Future Market, a company that forecasts food trends. Of course, this depends on whether companies embrace the usage of this type of packaging long term. In the meantime, check out some of the most innovative forms of alternative food packaging that may be coming to a grocery store near you soon:

Milk protein: A team at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is using milk protein to create a material that can do everything from line pizza boxes to coat cereal for maximum freshness. (The goal here is to also deplete some of the department’s leftover milk powder supplies).

Mycelium fungus: The Merck Forest and Farmland Center in Vermont is using packaging made from the flexible roots of mushrooms to protect bottles of maple syrup it sends to customers. (The packaging itself was invented by Ecovative).

Shrimp and lobster shells: The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard has discovered that when they extract chitosan (a material found in shrimp and lobster shells) and combine it with silk fibers, they can form a biodegradable alternative for plastic. This material, known as Shrilk, can be used to make egg cartons or even “bags” for lettuce.

Shop eco-friendly food storage, and tell us which type of packaging you’re most excited to see on grocery store shelves in the comments.

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