The battle against single-use plastics is well and truly underway. But whilst we’re aware of the environmental problems with plastic, it’s still difficult to leave the supermarket without something pre-packaged.
Is there a way to rid ourselves of excess packaging without giving up the convenience that our throw-away society has become accustomed to? Scientist, Roza Janusz believes she’s found a solution – Scoby, grow-your-own edible packaging.
I set out to get the scoop on Scoby.
SCOBY: living packages by roza janusz from roza rutkowska on Vimeo.
How Do You Solve the Problem of Food Packaging? Make It Edible
It all starts with an ancient drink that’s having a resurgence: kombucha. Kombucha is a tangy probiotic drink made from tea that has been fermented using yeast and bacteria. It’s been around for centuries.
Fermenting kombucha further, for around two weeks, means that thin layers begin to appear on top of the liquid. These layers are what Roza has named Scoby. Roza discovered that Scoby can be used for the packaging and transporting of food. There’s no waste, because the remaining kombucha can be used as a fertiliser or laundry detergent. Or you can drink it!
The yeast and bacteria used to ferment kombucha are referred to as a SCOBY, or a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Hence the name, Scoby.
Originally from a farming background, Polish Process Design student Roza saw the potential in kombucha. In a quest to combine science with traditional farming practices, she developed Scoby. Scoby will allow farmers to grow their own recyclable, vegan-friendly packaging you can eat.
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Is Scoby Just a Short-lived Gimmick?
Once dried, Scoby has a similar look and feel to a pig’s bladder. Food producers have long been using this biological material to package perishable goods such as salami.
There’s now an increased awareness of ethical farming and a growing number of people going vegetarian or vegan each year. Roza has created the perfect eco-friendly alternative to packaging made from plastics and animal tissue.
Scoby can be used to package dry foods as well as semi-dry foods. The development process is still underway to determine its durability. Even so, we’ve already seen the creation of the world’s first edible cutlery and eat your own water bottles, so why shouldn’t edible packaging be next? Imagine sending the kids off to school with a Scoby full of fruit and nuts?
What’s more, Scoby could well mean that we can pick up a ready meal without feeling guilty. According to Roza, the finished product tastes a little bit like kombucha. But when cooked it takes on the flavour of its contents. Which means there’d be no need to even unwrap our dinner before popping it in the oven. There’d be no black plastic to dispose of afterwards either.
Here’s the Really Clever Part
Scoby doesn’t need anything technical for its production. In fact, Roza claims that growing a Scoby is just like growing an onion. All you need is a few shallow containers, 20-30 degree heat, and a little kombucha.
This makes it affordable and practical for farmers and small businesses to grow. Or for anyone who wants to try it at home. Not only that, due to its low pH level, Scoby is still edible six months after production.
Will We See Scoby on Our Shelves Soon?
Roza is a clear example of a young scientist taking steps to minimise waste without compromising on convenience.
Scoby is already being exhibited at UK packaging events and it may well clear a path for a zero-waste future. That said, this biological packaging is still under development. It’s likely to be some time before we can buy sandwiches wrapped in edible packaging.
The long-term question is whether Scoby can be produced on a large enough scale to replace, or even challenge, plastic production.
In the meantime, let’s all continue to make some quick and easy swaps to minimise our plastic usage.