United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers are developing lightweight, biodegradable, takeaway food containers made from wheat starch.

Plant physiologists in California are working with the EarthShell packaging company to complete the environmentally friendly containers.

Moulded from wheat-starch batter, containers - as well as cups, bowls and plates - are treated with a water-resistant coat to maintain form and strength. While more expensive than polystyrene, researchers say having a selection of starches such as wheat or corn to choose from, will give manufacturers flexibility to maintain competitive pricing.

Attractive, durable, and easy to use, wheat-based containers biodegrade in a few weeks in compost piles, unlike polystyrene clamshell containers whose petroleum-based structures pile up in landfills.