Today, we know that plastic packaging is a bad wrap. However, its first version that was commercially viable, called cellophane was made in a time when nobody was concerned about the plastics harming the land, sea or even the food chain.
It all began in France in 1904, when a patron spilled some red wine on a linen tablecloth in an upmarket restaurant. A Swiss chemist, Jacques Brandenberger observed the incident from a nearby seat and wondered whether a fabric could be designed that could simply wipe clean. He experimented by spraying cellulose on some tablecloths but it resulted in them peeling off as transparent sheets. He found during World War One that the transparent sheets could be used as eye-pieces in the gas masks and named his invention as cellophane. Later he sold the rights in 1923 to the DuPont Corporation based in America.
In the beginning, it was used for wrapping flowers, chocolates, and perfumes.
However, DuPont faced a problem as the cellophane was waterproof but not moisture-proof. William Hale Charch was hired to solve this problem, which he did in a year. The cellophane was then coated with very thin layers of wax, nitrocellulose, a blending agent, and a plasticizer.
See-through packaging in the 1930s was a hit and Ai Hisano, a researcher at Harvard Business School said that it had “a significant impact not only on how consumers purchased foods but also on how they understood food quality”.
Cellophane allowed the people to choose their food on the basis of its appearance without having to sacrifice freshness or hygiene. A study funded by DuPont showed that by wrapping the crackers in cellophane, sales were boosted by more than half.
However, cellophane soon fell out of fashion and was overtaken by the polyvinylidene chloride of Dow Chemical.
It was an accidental discovery and was previously used in World War Two as a weatherproof for fighter planes.
It needed a lot of development and research before being applicable for food as it originally it was dark green in color and had a disgusting odor.
Once, Dow had it sorted out, the Saran Wrap, now called cling film, hit the market.