When they look at ways to cut packaging and shipping costs, most shippers focus on trimming the outer wrappings, like the carton, packaging film, and dunnage. But researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Tangible Media Group are approaching the problem from a different angle. They're looking to streamline the product itself.
In a bid to reduce food packaging and shipping costs, the scientists created what could be described as "edible origami" or "shape-shifting pasta"—flat sheets of gelatin and starch that transform into three-dimensional shapes when submerged in water. For instance, the sheets can be engineered to fold into common pasta shapes like macaroni and rotini, MIT said. The edible films would be stacked together and packed flat for shipping, allowing for more efficient—and presumably less costly—transport.
"We did some simple calculations, such as for macaroni pasta, and even if you pack it perfectly, you still will end up with 67 percent of the volume as air," Wen Wang, a research scientist in MIT's Media Lab, said in a release. "We thought maybe in the future, our shape-changing food could be packed flat and save space."
The researchers created their invention using a laboratory 3-D printer, printing strips of edible cellulose over a layer of gelatin. But a 3-D printer wouldn't necessarily be required. In a paper presented at a conference last month, the authors noted that users could achieve the same results via less expensive production methods, such as screenprinting.