Using biological tissue to package farm goods is not a new thing. Traditionally, farmers have used animal tissue to encapsulate and dry meat like chorizo or salami. In fact, Scoby looks very much like dried pig bladders or small intestines. However, Janusz’s material is a fully vegetarian wrapping that can be grown by any farmer with a simple chemical process that Roza has invented. The organic material and can even be eaten after use or composted.
The production method involves adding sugars and other organic substances to kombucha–the fermented drink made with tea, yeast, and bacteria. She says that the average growth time per sheet is two weeks–at which point a membrane forms on the surface of the liquid. During fermentation, these bio-cellulose skins form in layers, one after the other, in a process similar to the way an onion grows in layers.
The Polish designer, who created the packaging as part of her graduate project at the School of Form in Poznań, Poland, claims the material can prolong the durability of a food product and then be sustainably disposed of.
It is designed to store dry or semi-dry foods, including seeds, nuts, herbs and salad. “Packaging production will no longer litter the environment but enrich it,” says Janusz.
The membrane is grown in shallow containers by feeding agricultural waste to bacteria and yeast over a period of two weeks.
The material is fermented in a room with a temperature of between 25 to 25 degrees celsius, before being placed in moulds. It does not need sunlight to grow. Once set, the bacteria forms a thin, malleable film that acts as a barrier against oxygen – the main component to food decomposition.
“The material is compostable and nutritious to our gut or the soil because of its healthy bacteria,” she said. “It is a product of fermentation and has a low pH, which prevents food from wasting.”
Janusz believes that creating the bio-composite material can be easily integrated into the farming process at an industrial level. “The farmer is more and more an engineer and the farm becomes a factory,” said Janusz.
“Growing materials has become more and more popular in design, so maybe growing things is closer and easier than we think,” said Janusz.
Many designers are turning to unusual materials as alternatives to common plastics, including fallen leaves, algae, flax and even crab shells.
Thanks to the global plastic scourge, we now regularly consume plastic molecules in the food we eat. Perhaps it’s time we drastically cut back on plastic-based wrapping and focus on alternatives. Roza believes that Scoby could help usher in a future in which farmers grow their own packaging. It may be humble, but it’s an effective step in the right direction.