If you can’t
beat ’em eat ’em

A photo essay on the rise of edible packaging

The world is overflowing with plastic. Since the 1950s, when large-scale production first ramped up, we have churned out more than 9,000 million tons of plastic, according to a recent global analysis. And of those water bottles, drinking straws, and more, 79 percent of them have wound up choking landfills or the environment. Clearly, the world needs a plastic revolution. What if the answer lies in the human stomach? That’s the argument made by a new wave of designers who are working to develop packaging that doesn’t just biodegrade—it’s edible. They include Loliware, a New York–based company that has developed a line of candy-colored and hipster-flavored drinking cups. The goal behind this movement is simple: to turn the world’s 7 billion-plus consumers into
biodigesters for packaging waste.

A Water Bottle.
Minus the Bottle.

©CS Media

©CS Media

Ooho Edible Water Pods

The water bottle has become the poster child for single-use plastic waste. That’s because people can’t get enough of it—in the US alone, companies sold nearly 13 billion gallons of bottled water in 2016, surpassing soda as the top-selling libation, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. More than two-thirds of that water was packaged in single-use plastic bottles; only 30 percent of those bottles were recycled in 2014, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Enter the London-based Skipping Rocks Lab and its first project, Ooho (pronounced “oh-ho”). With the goal of providing “the convenience of plastic bottles while limiting the environmental impact,” the company has designed edible pods made from plants and seaweed that can hold water or any other liquid. Think mochi for hydration. You can bite off a corner of these pods to slurp down the liquid, or pop one in your mouth for an all-at-once gush. So far, Skipping Rocks Lab has been marketing Ooho to marathons, festivals, and other places where people crave water on the go.

Use it.Then eat it.

Bakey’s edible cutlery ©Janadhan Koremulla and Srinivas Allada

Bakey’s edible cutlery ©Janadhan Koremulla and Srinivas Allada

Edible Cutlery

Bakey’s Edible Cutlery, founded in Hyderabad, India, is taking the clean plate to the next level. Bakey’s makes a line of cutlery, including spoons and sporks, that you can eat once you’re finished—well, eating. The company crafts its edible utensils out of baked dough made from sorghum, rice, and wheat flours. They come in both savory (with cumin and ajwain spices) and sweet flavors. The company is the brain child of Narayana Peesapaty, an engineer who hopes that his spoons will in-spire others to take up “simple solutions to complex issues.”

Loli Straws

Loliware, the same company that introduced a line of chewable cups, has now set its sights on the humble straw. The project is timely: a number of government entities, including Scotland, the state of California, and the cities of Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia, have passed or are currently considering legislation to ban plastic straws. Taiwan plans to declare not just straws but also many single-use plastic items verboten by 2030. Loli-straws, made from seaweed, provide one solution to these regulations. The company is looking to sell its edible straws—available for pre-order now—to coffee shops, juice bars, and other locations where consumers love to slurp.

Edible Six-Pack Rings

OK, this is one type of packaging that humans may not want to eat. However, it’s made from the edible byproducts of one of the world’s most popular drinks: beer. Spearheaded by SaltWater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida, the Eco Six Pack Ring is crafted from spent grains churned out during the brewing process. It’s a creative solution to plastic six-pack rings, which have gained a reputation for ensnaring fish, turtles, and other sea animals. SaltWater rolled out the new six-pack rings for its Screamin’ Reels IPA and says that the packaging is not only safe for marine critters—they can even make a meal out of it.

from Milk.

It’s biodegradeable and 500 times better at keeping air out than conventional plastic

Milk-Based Plastic Coating

Crafting what may be one of the most versatile products on our list, a team from the US Department of Agriculture has engineered a thin packaging material from an unlikely source: milk. Or, more specifically, from casein, a common protein found in milk. Led by researcher Peggy Tomasula, the group pioneered a method of treating solutions of this protein so that they form thin sheets of plastic-like material. There are a number of potential applications for such milk-based coverings, the researchers reported at a 2016 meeting of the American Chemical Society. These include packaging for food products that are prone to spoiling, such as individually wrapped slices of cheese. That’s because this casein packaging is not just biodegradable but also safe to eat. The team says that its casein mixture can even be sprayed onto cereal to keep it crunchy for longer—a healthier replacement for current sugar-based coatings. The USDA researchers are working now with business partners to scale up the packaging solution, hoping to bring it to market within a few years.

Wrappers made
of seaweed


Indonesia-based Evoware has taken a holistic approach to producing edible packaging by blending social and environmental sustainability. The company uses seaweed grown by local farmers to make a range of paper-like wrappers—including packaging for hamburgers, single-serve coffee, and those sachets of spices you add to instant soups. For now, Evoware is selling its seaweed packets in limited amounts via the social media platform WhatsApp.