And, as milk consumption in the U.S. falls but supply remains stable, dairy farms are faced with the same problem. Their solution, according to CBC News, is to store that milk as milk powder. Which presents another problem: What to do with all of that milk powder?
It was this question that got scientists at the USDA dairy research unit thinking: Peggy Tomasula and Laetitia Bonnaillie have created a biodegradable plastic wrap-equivalent made from the milk protein casein in addition to citrus pectin and salt, Eater reports. They presented the material yesterday at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
The new milk-based cling wrap, theoretically, could solve a lot of problems:
It would, as mentioned, give a purpose to all that excess milk powder.
It's biodegradable and even edible (and there's potential to add flavoring).
It keeps food fresher than traditional plastic wrap: It's "up to 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food," Mirror reports, which means the material could help fight food waste, too. (The smaller pores in this edible wrapping makes it more effective at keeping that oxygen out.)
The citrus pectin makes the wrap resistant to humidity and high temperatures.
There's no risk of chemicals leaching into food, a concern for many who avoid traditional plastic wraps.
But would it be vegan? Can it be heated and frozen? The other potential downside is that the milk-based wrap is less sticky and stretchy than traditional cling film—but the group plans "to keep making improvements" the researchers told EurekAlert. Bonnaillie "predicts this casein packaging will be on store shelves within 3 years."
Shop the Story
Right now, the research team predicts the wrap will be used mostly for single-serve packaging (cheese singles, string cheese, individual cakes and snacks, deli meats), and Bonnaillie says that her group has created prototypes for a small Texas company and that bigger businesses like Whole Foods have been monitoring the progress.