This Biodegradable, Edible Wrapper Could Replace Single-Use Plastics for Food

Scoby Packaging is a food wrapper developed using a byproduct of kombucha. Snapshot from video

Plastic has long been a wrapper's delight. It's cheap. It keeps food fresh. And it's so wonderfully transparent you can check on the status of that store-bought sandwich — what no pickle?! — without breaking the seal.

But our planet is literally choking on those cheap and easy wrappers. For many of us, they're the husks we cast aside, crumpled and worthless, when we're getting to the good stuff inside.

The world — from the oceans to the highest mountain tops to the bellies of birds — is left holding the bill.

And yet somehow oil companies have decided the world needs more plastic, planning to double plastic production this year.

This terminally plasticized world needs a hero more than ever.

Could that hero be slime?

That's what Polish designer Roza Janusz is banking on with Scoby Packaging, the slick food wrapper she developed using a byproduct of kombucha.

You can see it in action here.

In case you missed the hype, kombucha is a fizzy fermented beverage that packs all kinds of not-quite-substantiated benefits, from fortifying our gut flora to boosting our immune system.

It's also a fairly easy concoction to brew at home.

jar and pitcher of kombucha tea
This fermented brew may not seem appetizing, but kombucha fans swear by its healing properties. Dewald Kirsten/Shutterstock

But along the way to whipping up a bottle of this wonder tonic you're likely to encounter a curious creature that's essential to the brewing process.

That would be the scoby — a slime-covered organism that resembles a flat jellyfish. An acronym for "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast," the scoby is the living heart of every kombucha-brewing operation.

But this quivering hockey puck's work may extend far beyond giving you a health boost. It may be a tonic for our plastic-addled planet.

That's not a jellyfish swimming in that kombucha; it's a scoby. Daniel S Edwards/Shutterstock

According to the website for MakeGrowLab, the design studio Janusz co-founded in 2018, scobys may be the ultimate packaging for dry and semi-dry food. A thin layer of scoby seals air-tight. It doesn't break easily. It's an antibacterial barrier. And it can protect food for at least six months.

Water doesn't faze it either.

Did we mention you can eat it too? Even if you're not down with scarfing back kombucha slime, the planet certainly has an appetite for it. Scobys biodegrade easily, fortifying the soil along the way.

As Juliette Bretan writes in OneZero, Janusz came up with the idea while making kombucha. She noted how the maturing scoby eventually formed a "waxy, pancake-like membrane atop the liquid, protecting the kombucha underneath."

What if that very dedicated membrane could be persuaded to protect other foodstuffs?

She gave the fermentation process a boost by adding agricultural waste to the bacteria-yeast cocktail. It also allowed her to ramp up production of these thin protective layers, while producing zero waste.

"We had to find a solution to keep the material home-compostable but make it scalable," tells OneZero.

No longer the unsung hero that nurtures and protects kombucha tea, the scoby was reborn as SCOBY Packaging, a product that Janusz hopes will inspire a biorevolution.

Which begs the question: Scoby-doo, where are you? Well, there's a crucial reason why your granola bar isn't tucked into a slime sleeve right now. Living creatures, like scobies, don't exactly roll off an assembly line. They grow over time. In fact, producing a single sheet of SCOBY Packaging takes about two weeks.

Mass manufacturing of this stuff is still a ways off.

Instead of a revolution, we might think of it more as an evolution. In the meantime, if you're looking to start a revolution of your own, here are a few tips for kicking that plastic habit.