How Could Milk Help Us Cut Down On Plastic Packaging?

Milk. Maybe you drink it in your tea every day, maybe you're lactose intolerant and avoid it like the plague. Either way, new research suggests it might have a role to play in helping out with the planet's plastic waste problem. 

Autor*in Marisa Pettit, 09.28.16

Milk. Maybe you drink it in your tea every day, maybe you’re lactose intolerant and avoid it like the plague. Either way, new research suggests it might have a role to play in helping out with the planet’s plastic waste problem. 

Plastics are a part of our everyday life. Especially when it comes to what we eat and drink; the majority of food-packaging is made of plastic, despite the fact that the chemical additives in almost all plastic types can seep into the foods they package, contaminating them and causing adverse health effects, ranging from cancer and immune system impairment.

And while in many places we’re able to recycle plastic bottles and cartons, other types of plastic, the kinds that go into making cling films, shrink wraps, and blister packages, are usually much more difficult to recycle. Thankfully, researchers continue looking into alternatives, such as biodegradable and edible plastics, and scientists around the world are coming up with alternative types of food packaging that are less harmful both for the environment and the people using them.

Milking It

Now, researchers at the US Department of Agriculture have started looking into the possibility of creating a type of plastic packaging using a milk protein called casein. As well as being biodegradable AND edible (not for the lactose intolerant!), it’s allegedly up to 500 times better at keeping oxygen away from food than plastic is, because the milk proteins form tighter bonds, as well as protecting food products that shouldn’t be exposed to light.

In a video made about the findings, which we’ve linked to below, researchers suggest that it could even be used to keep foods crisp and fresh. Cornflakes for example, that are often kept crunchy by coating them in a layer of sugar, could be preserved in a healthier way by using a layer of casein instead. We’re not sure what this invention would mean for people who have a serious milk allergy – probably a huge amount of hassle – however the idea is still in the trial stages. For now, the environmental and health benefits of an invention like this seem to outweigh any possible negative aspects.

For more information about the concept and to see how the research is progressing, check out the video below.

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