If something is biodegradable is it edible? (5 examples of edible food packaging)

In this article, the difference between being biodegradable and being edible will be explored. Other details covered in the article will be: 

  • What is biodegradable?
  • Why is biodegradability important?
  • If something is biodegradable, is it eco-friendly?
  • What is edible?
  • If something is biodegradable, is it edible?
  • What is edible food packaging?
  • What are examples of edible food packaging?
  • What are the implications of edible food packaging?
  • Is there anything like edible plastics?
  • FAQs

If something is biodegradable is it edible?

If the material is biodegradable, then it does not necessarily mean that it is edible. Edible materials are manufactured with standard health protocols and parameters and also should give off good nutritional value. 

However, there are some products that are both biodegradable and edible. Examples can be from the edible food industry including edible cones, edible coffee cups, edible straws et cetera. 

All these materials are natural, biodegradable and edible because they are manufactured to reduce global waste generation innovatively and sustainably. 

What is biodegradable?

In order to understand the difference between edible and biodegradable, it is important to know what is biodegradable in the first place.

A substance is called biodegradable if it can be degraded by microbes in a certain amount of time (usually a few months). 

Therefore, biodegradability can be explained as the Earth’s natural process of discarding waste. Biodegradability is the process through which complex materials are converted into simpler materials by the action of microbes. 

These simple materials can become a part of nature again and hence leaving no waste. The issue of waste is gaining global attention because the impacts of waste are not only global but also threatening to life. 

It is stated that the current waste production stands above 2 billion tons globally. This staggering figure implies that there is a dire need for a robust waste management system. 

The occurrence of non-biodegradable material further exacerbates the scenario because such wastes are notoriously famous for persisting in the environment for hundreds of years. 

Why is biodegradable important?

Consider that for some reason you are unable to dispose of waste produced in your house. Your house will get dirty, right? Now imagine, you are unable to dispose of waste from your house for 400 hundred years?

Can you imagine the implications of it? Your house will become non-livable. Not only this, your neighbours might also need to consider shifting because the smell produced from all that waste will be so disturbing. 

The same is the case for non-biodegradable products. If the earth is our home then non-biodegradable is the inability to dispose of waste. 

As a result, our home is becoming more and more non-livable day by day. The effects are not only limited to us humans but other species are also being harmed, perhaps more than humans, 

For example, plastic is a non-biodegradable product. It is said that plastic impacts more than 800 species of animals worldwide, pushing away many to the threshold of endangerment and even extinction. 

That is why the need for biodegradable material is asserted so much by environmentalists. It is a tool to make sure that your home is liveable in a sustainable manner. 

If something is biodegradable, does it mean that it is 100% eco-friendly?

Although it is quite logical to assume that if something is biodegradable then it would also be eco-friendly. However, this is not the case. 

Other than being biodegradable, the way a product is used and the way it is disposed of also determines if anything is eco-friendly or not. 

For example, plant-based bioplastics are biodegradable. However, it is estimated by the Life-cycle assessment that the production of these bio-plastics (from plants such as corn starch and sugar cane) put the environment at great risk. 

This is because of the use of agrochemicals like fertilisers and pesticides that are used to grow such plants and meet the incessantly rising needs in the consumer market. 

What is edible?

A substance can be called edible if it can be eaten. For a substance or material to be edible, it must be made in compliance with basic health standards and it must also be of good nutritional value. 

Examples of edible material are daily life things that you eat including fruits, vegetables, bakery items, baked items et cetera. 

All these edible products are made in compliance with the required food safety standards and contain nutritional value. That is why they are termed under the umbrella of edible. 

If something is biodegradable, does it mean that it is edible?

The ability to biodegrade and the quality of being edible are two different things and it is not logical to bridge any connection between the two. 

Biodegradability is connected with nature. Biodegradable materials are mostly made from naturally occurring materials such as animal-based or plant-based products. 

Consider the example of cotton. Cotton is a biodegradable material that is mostly used to make clothes. It is made from plants (cellulose). But, have you ever seen a person eating clothes? 

You may wonder what kind of absurd question this is. But this is the very topic we are dealing with. 

Since biodegradable material is made from natural sources like plants or animals, it is logical to assume that it can be eaten. However, this assumption is far from science and food technology. 

Edible materials have to be manufactured with certain set standards and protocols and also need to have nutritional content. Whereas being biodegradable assures none of these basic requirements. 

Also, there is the possibility that biodegradable material can also be made from non-natural sources. A good example can be that of epoxy resin, which is a plastic. 

Can you imagine someone eating plastic? The health risks related are beyond imagination. 

What is edible food packaging?

Edible packaging, as the name suggests, is a type of packaging that is verged on the principles of eco-friendliness and sustainability. 

This edible packaging is basically designed to meet the rising waste management challenges because edible packaging simply implies no waste production at all. 

Edible packaging is made from plant-based materials. Another major reason behind the occurrence of edible packaging is that the food industry is well-known for its large amount of waste generation. 

What are some examples of edible food packaging? (5 examples of edible food packaging) 

Do you remember the last time you ate cone ice cream? If yes, then congratulations. You remember the last time you ate edible packaging. 

Ice creams are perhaps one of the very first examples of edible packaging. You eat the ice cream but you eat the cone as well in which ice cream is kept. 

Other examples of edible packaging include:

  • Edible coffee cups 
  • Edible straws 
  • Edible spoons
  • Edible drink pouches 
  • Edible food films

All these materials are made from natural and plant sources and hence are both biodegradable and edible. These examples also preach that there is still a lot to be done by us in our pledge towards a sustainable future. 

What are the implications of edible food packaging?

It is claimed that the waste generated from the food industry is beyond surprising. Research estimates that the global food industry generates 1.3 billion tons of food. 

This massive amount of food waste is then further treated in the wrong way which worsens the situation. As per a study, more than 40 percent of the generated waste is not disposed of properly leaving behind serious health problems and environmental concerns. 

However, that is where edible food packaging enters the picture. If edible food packaging is made a flourishing reality, then it could mean that we can reduce global waste production by more than one-third. 

Consider the case of edible coffee cups. It is cited that we throw away as many as 2.5 billion disposable cups. These cups may or may not be made from biodegradable material.

Regardless of their nature, they pose serious environmental and waste management problems. 

However, if these 2.5 billion cups are replaced by edible cups made from plant-based materials like sugar cane or corn starch, then it would mean that 2.5 billion cups are not added to the overall pool of waste generated. 

How significantly the situation can change by just the adoption of a small but innovative step. This is the reality of the implications of edible food packaging. 

Another example can be that of edible straws. These straws are also made from plant-based materials. The current waste generation from plastic straws stands at 2000 tonnes every year. 

Shifting to edible straws would mean that 2000 tons of waste will not be produced every year. The results and implications are beyond encouraging. 

Is there anything like edible plastics? 

Plastics are man-made polymers that are not biodegradable. In fact, plastics are known to cause much harm to the environment and life in general. 

However, with the recent technological advances and greater room for environmental sustainability, efforts have been made to decrease the production of non-biodegradable materials. 

As a result, biodegradable plastics are made from natural plant-based sources like sugar cane or corn starch. 

Since these bioplastics are made from plant-based sources, it is logical to assume and question whether they are edible or not. 

However, it must be asserted that bio-plastics, although made from plants, are not edible. Technically you can eat them but doing so will put you at risk of health issues since such material is not made in compliance with health standards. 

Bioplastics also do not contain any significant nutritional value. More than that, in the majority of the cases, bioplastics also come with other additives used for various functions. These additives may be harmful to human health.  

Conclusion

It is concluded that biodegradability does not mean being edible. Edible materials are manufactured with standard health protocols and parameters and also should give off good nutritional value. 

However, there are some products that are both biodegradable and edible. Examples can be from the edible food industry including edible cones, edible coffee cups, edible straws et cetera. 

All these materials are natural, biodegradable and edible because they are manufactured to reduce global waste generation innovatively and sustainably. 

Frequently Asked Questions: If something is biodegradable is it edible?

Why can we not eat biodegradable materials if they are made from natural substances? 

That is because they are not meant to be eaten. They also often come with other chemicals and additives that can cause serious health issues. 

How is edible packaging protected from germs?

Usually, edible packaging comes in a thin cover that acts as a barrier between edible packaging and the outside environment, protecting it from germs and microbes. 

References 

  • Atiwesh, G., Mikhael, A., Parrish, C. C., Banoub, J., & Le, T. A. T. (2021). Environmental impact of bioplastic use: A review. Heliyon, 7(9), e07918.
  • Petkoska, A. T., Daniloski, D., D’Cunha, N. M., Naumovski, N., & Broach, A. T. (2021). Edible packaging: Sustainable solutions and novel trends in food packaging. Food Research International, 140, 109981.
  • Kosior, E., & Mitchell, J. (2020). Current industry position on plastic production and recycling. In Plastic waste and recycling(pp. 133-162). Academic Press.
  • Shaw, Dougal. (April 22, 2021). Coffee waste: Companies offer up new solutions. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-56582456

What was missing from this post which could have made it better?

Leave a Comment