Ocean Currents

Don’t Ditch Plastic, Just Eat It

© Stephbond flickr stream

During our 2011 International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers found nearly 1 million pieces of food packaging on the world’s beaches — enough for one person to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the next 858 years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the food packaging waste that’s out there.

We can all do our part to help reduce plastic waste by choosing products and takeout that use less or more sustainable packaging. But personal choice will only go so far.

Meaningful change has come from the top — from the companies wrapping our to-go sandwiches, packaging our frozen dinners and making the plastic that keeps it all fresh and ready to grab off the shelves.

Some may hope these companies turn away from plastic and go back to a time when glass bottles ruled the shelves, but such a change is unlikely. Technology does not have a habit of moving backwards. More likely, the answer lies in improving plastic so it has less of an impact on the environment — or disappears entirely. That’s where MonoSol comes in.

MonoSol is creating new lines of plastic packaging that dissolve in water, making it literally disappear. Jon Gallagher, MonoSol’s new product development manager, described the product this way to Fast Company:

A blow-up view would kind of look like a brick of Ramen noodles. Once there’s water penetration, the molecular bonds loosen up. Until that point, the material is strong enough to serve as packaging for food. It’s a wrapper until it isn’t.

MonoSol’s plastic is already being used to package dish and laundry detergent and soon could be wrapping food as well. Convenience foods ranging from hot chocolate to frozen lasagna could be packaged in water soluble, edible plastics. If the consuming public buys into the solution, it could have a big impact on how much waste we produce and what ends up on our shores.

The idea of eating plastic may sound strange and uneasy to us now, but I have a feeling the convenience of it will rule the day. Forty years ago, zapping our food with radiation to heat a quick meal was a revolutionary concept. Now, the microwave is in nearly every kitchen and dorm room in the country.

So what do you think? Is soluble plastic part of the solution to ocean trash? Are you squeamish about a future where we’re eating plastic?

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