The Effect of Food Packaging
On the Environment
Have you ever stopped to think about how the food packaging you use affects the environment? It might not be something that comes to mind very often, but the type of packaging that food comes in can have a big impact on how much waste is produced. Check out some of the ways food packaging technology and materials can damage the planet and what you can do to help make a difference.
Food Packaging Materials and Uses
There are all sorts of materials that can be used for food packaging, from raw materials to organic materials. And while different containers have different benefits, they also come with their own set of safety concerns.
Glass is one of the most popular choices for food packages because it’s durable and doesn’t leach chemicals of concern into contact with food. Plus, it can be recycled over and over again. However, glass is also heavy and requires a lot of energy to produce, which can contribute to pollution.
Plastic is another common material used for food packaging. It’s lightweight and often cheaper than other options, but it’s not very biodegradable. That means that when it’s thrown away, it can sit in a landfill for years, releasing harmful chemicals into the ground.
Paper is often used for things like cereal boxes and paper bags. It’s biodegradable and recyclable, but it can also be quite thin and flimsy. That means that food packaging materials made from paper are more likely to tear and end up in the trash.
Metal is usually used for food cans, but is less common than other materials. That’s because it’s quite expensive and can be difficult to recycle. However, metal is durable and doesn’t leach chemicals, making it a good choice for food packaging.
The Trouble with Food Packaging
All of these materials have their own environmental-health concerns, but there are also some general problems with food packaging. For starters, food packaging often contains harmful chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which can leach into food and cause health problems. These chemicals can end up in the environment when food packaging is thrown away or recycled.
Packaging Waste in Food Industry
Americans are constantly on the go, and we often don’t have time to sit down for a home-cooked meal. Instead, we rely on quick and easy packaged foods. While this is certainly convenient, it’s important to be aware of the adverse effect on the environment.
Food packaging is also a major source of high food waste rates. Every year, billions of pounds of food are thrown away because it’s past the expiration date or has been damaged in some way. In the United States, it’s estimated that about 30% of all trash is made up of packaging materials. And much of this packaging ends up in landfills, where it can take years to break down.
Not only does food packaging create a lot of waste, but the process of creating it is also harmful to the environment. For example, bottled and jarred goods are typically made of PET plastic, which is derived from fossil fuels. The production of this type of plastic emits harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. When it comes to recycling, food packaging can be tricky. Some types of packaging, like aluminum cans, are easily recycled. But other types, like Styrofoam, are not. And even if a type of packaging is recyclable, it may not be accepted by your local recycling facility. This means that it could end up in a landfill anyway.
The Problems with Plastic Production
As mentioned, plastic is one of the most commonly used materials for food packaging. It’s cheap, lightweight, and durable. But plastic comes with a big environmental price tag. In fact, it can take up to 1000 years for some types of plastic to decompose! This means that all the plastic ever produced still exists. And it’s not just the packaging that’s the problem – think of all the plastic straws, utensils, and water bottles you use and throw away each day. It all adds up! The production of plastic emits harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
The different types of plastics are:
- Thermoplastics (plastics that can be melted and reformed)
- Elastomers (rubber-like materials)
- Polystyrene (commonly used for food packaging)
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET, commonly used for water bottles)
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE, commonly used for milk jugs)
- Low-density polyethylene (LDPE, commonly used for plastic bags)
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC, commonly used for food packaging)
- Polypropylene (PP, commonly used for food packaging)
- Polycarbonate (PC, commonly used for food packaging).
The best way to reduce your impact is to avoid purchasing products with a lot of packaging, or that come in single-use packaging. If you do buy packaged goods, try to choose items that are made of recycled materials, or that can be easily recycled.
Tips to cut down on the use of plastic packaging
The good news is that there are ways to reduce your reliance on plastic and here are a few tips how to do so:
- Use reusable containers made from sustainable materials, such as bamboo or glass.
- Bring your own reusable water bottle and coffee mug when you’re on the go.
- Avoid single-use plastic items, such as straws, utensils, and grocery bags.
- Recycle the plastic you do use.
By making small changes in our daily lives, we can make a big impact on the environment.
Reducing the environmental impact of food packaging
There are a few ways to reduce the amount of packaging waste produced by the food industry. One way is using less packaging overall. This can be done by using reusable containers or selling food in bulk.
Another way to reduce packaging waste is by using materials that have high recycling rates such as glass, metal, and paper.
Finally, food manufacturers can also make sure that their packaging is made from renewable or biodegradable materials. This includes things like bamboo and plant-based plastics. These materials are not only better for the environment, but they’re also compostable, which means they can be used as fertilizer for plants.
Biodegradable Food Packaging
Biodegradable materials can be broken down by bacteria or other living organisms which means that they won’t end up in landfills, where they’ll take years to decompose.
There are a few different types of biodegradable materials that can be used for food packaging:
- plant-based plastics
Bamboo is a great material for food applications because it’s strong and durable. It’s also compostable, which means it can be used as fertilizer for plants. Bamboo is often used to make reusable containers, such as lunchboxes and water bottles. Plant-based plastics are another type of biodegradable material that can be used for food packaging. These are made from renewable resources, such as corn or sugarcane. They’re also compostable, which makes them a great choice for eco-conscious consumers. Another sustainable material that can be used for food is paper since it’s recyclable and compostable, which makes it a great choice for the environment.
The benefits of biodegradable food packaging:
- It reduces the amount of harmful emissions that are released into the atmosphere.
- It doesn’t end up in landfills
- It is compostable
- It’s made from renewable resources.
The benefits of biodegradable food packaging go beyond reducing plastic waste. It preserves food quality and helps to reduce harmful emissions. When traditional plastics are made, they release harmful chemicals into the air. These chemicals can be very harmful to human health and the environment. By using biodegradable materials, food manufacturers can avoid releasing these harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.
Another benefit of biodegradable materials is that it’s often made from renewable resources. This means that it won’t deplete the earth’s resources. It also means that it can be reused or recycled, which further reduces its impact on the environment.
Finally, biodegradable materials are often compostable. This means that they can be used as fertilizer for plants. This is a great way to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. It also helps to fertilize the soil, which can improve plant growth.
The downside of biodegradable food packaging
But what about the downside of biodegradable food packaging?
The main downside is that it’s often more expensive than traditional plastics. Another downside is that it often takes longer to decompose than traditional plastics. This means that it might not be the best choice if you’re looking for an immediate solution to the problem of food packaging waste.
What You Can Do to Help
Now that you know a bit more about the effect of food packaging on the environment, you might be wondering what you can do to help.
Most Americans are unaware of the effect that food packaging has on the environment, but it’s important to be mindful of the waste it creates and the harmful emissions from its production. We can all do our part to reduce its impact by making more eco-conscious choices about food packaging.
Here are a few things you can do to reduce the impact of food packaging on the environment:
- Choose products that come in minimal or no packaging.
- Bring your own reusable bags and containers when shopping for groceries.
- Avoid single-use packagings such as plastic water bottles and straws.
- Recycle or compost food packaging when possible.
- Choose products that come in eco-friendly packaging.
By making conscious choices about the food and things we buy, we can make a big difference in the amount of waste we create.
What are some other ways you can think of to reduce the impact of food packaging on the environment? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Table of Contents
Frequently Asked Questions
Abstract plastic is a term used for synthetic polymer materials that are not made from renewable resources. They come in many different forms, including single-use packagings like bottles and jarred goods.
Green composites are eco-friendly packaging. It is made from renewable resources and it is 100% recyclable.
The key trends in glass and plastics are the development of more sustainable packaging solutions that reduce environmental impact. This includes the use of recycled materials, biodegradable plastics, and compostable packaging.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recycling rates for most commonly used beverage containers are:
- Glass beer and soft drink bottles—39.6 percent
- Glass wine and liquor bottles—39.8 percent
- Aluminum beer and soft drink cans—50.4 percent
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles and jars—29.1 percent
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic natural bottles—29.3 percent.
PLA, or Polylactic Acid, is a biodegradable plastic made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane. PLA has a lower carbon footprint than traditional plastics and can be composted at commercial facilities.
Petrochemical plastics are made from fossil fuels and are not renewable. They have found the most usage in food packaging industries because they are cheap, have good tensile properties, and represent an effective barrier against oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water vapour. They can last a very long time in the environment which can lead to pollution.
Ethane production is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground. The environmental impacts of this include air pollution, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Bio-plastics are made from renewable resources, but they can still have negative environmental impacts. For example, some bio-plastics are made from corn, which requires a lot of water and land to grow. They can also release greenhouse gases when they decompose.
MAP, or Modified Atmosphere Packaging, is a process that extends the shelf life of food by controlling the atmosphere around the food. This can reduce food waste and packaging waste.
In the US, the major source of feedstocks for plastics production is natural gas, derived either from natural gas processing or from crude oil refining.
Typically developed from paperboard and corrugated materials, physical barriers resist impacts, abrasions, and crushing damage, so they are widely used as shipping containers and as packaging for delicate foods such as eggs and fresh fruits. It is also lightweight, which reduces shipping costs.
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. They are found in a variety of consumer products like food packaging, non-stick cookware, and stain-resistant fabrics. Some of the highly persistent synthetic chemicals they contain have been associated with testicular cancer, developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity, and other health effects.
There are a number of factors that affect PFAS levels in food, including the type of packaging material, the amount of time the food is stored in the packaging, and the temperature at which the food is stored.
There are a number of things that can be done to reduce exposure to PFASs, including using alternatives to PFAS-containing products, avoiding food packaging made with PFASs, and properly disposing of products containing PFASs.