Even some of the most eco-conscious omnivores among us might get a little squeamish when it comes to David Edwards’ latest brainstorm: edible food packaging. After all, we’ve come of age in an era where the link between “sanitary” and “plastic” is as hard-wired as the one between “fresh pine scent” and “clean.”
But when you think about it, the Harvard scientist’s idea isn’t quite as radical as it seems. Mother Nature has long perfected the art of wrapping nutritional goodness within a package that itself doesn’t taste bad, either. Just bite into an apple.
Yet WikiCells still seem strange—albeit with that tantalizing allure of futuristic genius. As Edwards described the product to Business Insider: “This may be the first scalable, inexpensive, stable packaging solution that fully eliminates plastic.”
And here we were feeling smug about carting all our PET to the recycling bin.
Edwards has tinkered with a variety of edible-packaging designs, ranging from wine in a grape-skin pouch to orange juice in an orange-flavored skin (kind of ironic when you think about it, since orange juice already naturally comes in an orange-flavored skin). Currently, the startup he helped found, WikiCell Designs, has launched ice cream wrapped in an edible shell as its first commercial product.
There are actually two layers to a WikiCell. The first is like the skin of a soft fruit (think grapes or blueberries) and is completely edible—just wash it off and eat it. The second is more durable and may or may not be edible, but it’s completely biodegradable (like orange peels, coconut shells, etc.).
So when will we be able to have our yogurt and eat its container, too? There are plans afoot to open “WikiBars” in American retail shops as early as next year (there’s already one in Paris), where consumers can get a first gander at the newfangled packaging. The company hopes to expand into markets like Whole Foods within three years, and beyond that, to work with big names in the food industry to get well-known brands into WikiCells.
“Likely, over the next several years, as we cross a broad spectrum of products—starting with ice cream, then yogurts, cheeses, soda and eventually water—all of these things will ask for different amounts of consumer adoption or change of behavior,” Edwards tells Business Insider.
Hey, if it means a future with no more plastic water bottles littering the side of the road, we’re ready.