Gotham Grazer Blog

Classroom Update: Food Packaging Design Challenge

Our students are tackling real issues in the food industry by designing innovative, sustainable methods for packaging food.

The students have been working in groups for about three weeks, creating prototypes of biodegradable packages for specific food items.  Aside from being biodegradable, the designs need to be strong, long lasting, and able to properly preserve the food items they hold.  Some groups took the challenge a step further, and created packaging that not only holds the food item, but is essential to the aesthetic of the product as a whole. Check out their incredible designs below!

Coincidentally, the New York Times recently published an article entitled, "Packaging Food With Food to Reduce Waste."  The article cites Ecovative (a company that the class actually studied), which is creating packaging from fungal mycelium.  A number of other organizations are running with similar concepts - Biocopac Plus aims to replace BPA with tomato peels; Shrilk combines left over shrimp shells with silk to produce a substitute for plastic wrap, and Ohoo is a liquids container made out of seaweed. 

Although it sometimes seems that we are surrounded by unnecessary plastic packaging - in food, product shipment, etc. - it is reassuring to know that this issue is a high priority for many organizations - and students!

Plastic Packaging - Will It Ever Be A Thing Of The Past?

In a few years, your cheese might come wrapped up in "milk" instead of plastic.

To tackle the issue of plastic waste (and a declining dairy industry), the USDA is developing a biodegradable - and edible - form of food packaging primarily made out of casein (a protein found in milk).  The new packaging film is not as effective as plastic when it comes to preventing water damage, but it is roughly 250 times more effective at blocking out oxygen.  Ideas of spraying casein onto food products to make them last longer, as well as the development of dissolvable, single-serving packages of soup and coffee, were also mentioned.

Although this could be a great win against the use of plastic, the article fails to discuss a few problem areas.  For example, how will this packaging affect those who are vegan or allergic to casein?  Will products that have been sprayed with casein preservative be labeled as such?  

Another cause for concern is how this benefits the industrial food system.  According to the article, milk consumption has been in decline for years; the hope is that the casein packaging could be a way to utilize excess milk that is processed into powder.  However, some might argue that the dairy industry is a large contributor to environmental issues, such as climate change and pollution, and that we should not be searching for ways to "save" it. 

That being said, it is good to know that the issue of plastic packaging is on the USDA's radar, and we hope that as this new product is developed, these questionable areas are addressed.