Right now, you can wrap butter in plastic wrap and store it in the freezer for up to six months. Soon, that same butter might last even longer if you wrap it in… Milk?
Or a film made out of milk-based proteins, that is. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have developed a new kind of packaging film made from just salt, citrus pectin, and casein — a milk protein. It works and functions much like conventional plastic wrap, except that it’s completely biodegradable, and even edible.
“The purpose was to make a packaging that had zero waste,” said one of the project’s lead researchers, Laetitia Bonnaillie. “The coatings applications for this product are endless. We are currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers. For instance, individually wrapped cheese sticks use a large proportion of plastic — we would like to fix that.”
Though the researchers don’t think the film will be ready for the commercial market for another three years, a Texas-based company has already expressed keen interest in the product, and companies like Whole Foods have been keeping a watch on its progress and development.
As an added bonus, the casein wrap is less porous than conventional plastic, meaning that it could also prevent food waste by extending shelf life. The casein film is said to be 500 times better than plastic at blocking out oxygen, which causes foods to spoil.
The disadvantages? The current casein film is not as stretchable or sticky as modern plastic wrap. “It feels like plastic wrap, when you look at it and when you hold it, but it does not stretch as much,” Bonnaillie explained.
Still, the researchers envision that the casein could also be developed into a sprayable format that could line pizza boxes to protect from grease or coat breakfast cereals to prevent sogginess.
While it won’t solve every food packaging issue, it could significantly reduce the impact of plastic along the food chain, where we can have our individually-wrapped cheese sticks and eat them, too.