Scientists have developed a packaging-free, instantly dissolvable milk capsule that you can drop straight into your hot beverage, making them easier to use than the conventional little cartons we're all used to, and reducing waste along the way.
They're essentially like sugar cubes but for milk, and the team behind them says they're produced along similar lines, with a crystalline layer keeping the milk contained until you're ready to dunk it.
When you weigh up just how many tiny milk containers get used in hotels and elsewhere – and how fiddly they can be to break into – the new capsules produced by researchers from the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany look like they could be a significant improvement.
"For example, the capsules could replace the small, extremely unpractical coffee creamer packaging that is used in great quantities at conferences or on airplanes," says one of the team, Joachim Ulrich.
For the time being, if you don't want any sugar in your drink alongside the milk, then you're out of luck – but the team is working on it.
The way it works is milk and the chosen substance are mixed together and fitted into a mould. As the solution cools, the added sugar moves to the edge of the mould, forming crystals that then keep the milk in place until it's needed in your tea or coffee.
The little pods stay sealed at room temperature and can keep for at least three weeks, making them ideal for hotels, aeroplanes, conference centres, and so on. They can even be made in a variety of shapes.
As soon as the capsules are dunked into something hot, the crystallised outer layer dissolves and you've got your milk and your sweetener in one package, with no extra cartons to get rid of.
We couldn't find statistics for the number of tiny milk containers produced a year – maybe no one has gone to the trouble of counting them – but with around 8 million tonnes of plastic getting dumped into the ocean every year, anything we can do to try and cut down on the waste we're producing has got to be good news.
It's not clear when we'll be able to start using these sugary capsules though: as with anything that's going to be eaten or drunk, there are a host of health and safety requirements to be met first, and more work needs to be done on scaling up the process of producing the pods.
But when they are ready, we'll be ready to use them. As an added bonus, the team behind the new dissolving milk pods says the process can be adapted for other drinks as well.
"Our processes can also be used for other liquids. For example, we can also encapsulate fruit juice concentrate," says one of the researchers, Martha Wellner.
Details of the research have been published in Chemical Engineering & Technology.