The search for bio-friendly food packaging material may have finally come to an end. EarthShell has developed a product from limestone, sand, and starch from potatoes or corn that will decompose within a few weeks when exposed to air.
This packaging, Ali-ITE, has two distinct advantages over many other new products. Production costs are the same or lower than existing paper and plastic foam materials, and it holds heat better. Thus it does not have to rest on its laurels as being "green." It offers real benefits and potential cost-savings to fast food giants and others. Secondly, the company’s largest shareholder, Essam Khashoggi, is the younger brother of a well known Saudi investor and former arms dealer who offers deep pockets for research and development.
Developing Ali-ITE has been an expensive undertaking for Earthshell, which has spent $270 million over ten years. Even with deep pockets, cash is beginning to run short just as the company is about to reach commercialization. If it can hang on for awhile longer, Earthshell could break into a $12 billion food packaging market.
Currently, the company is attempting to interest other firms in licenses to produce and distribute the product. Three leading packagers have signed deals, and both McDonald’s restaurants and Wal-Mart stores have expressed interest in trying the product. Only time will tell if Ali-ITE, named after one of Khashoggi’s sons, has a future as the clamshell package with a Big Mac inside.