Most of us find the topic of food packaging important. We know that packaging generates a lot of waste, especially plastic, and plays a significant role in destroying our oceans’ ecosystem. About 40% of food packaging is plastic.
I was personally touched by the Netflix series called “Seaspiracy ''. According to Our World in Data, the main contributors to plastic waste in our oceans are the Asian region and countries, like the Philippines, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Still, it doesn’t mean we should not care about the issue.
As per Mahatma Gandhi, the only thing we know for sure is, “If you want to change the world, start with yourself.” It probably won’t help clean the ocean right away, but we’ll contribute a lot to reducing the harm.
We interact with food packaging every day.
Once I start cooking and unpacking the ingredients, I find I’m surrounded by wrappings, sleeves, plastic boxes, etc. Every time I throw them away, I’m startled by the amount of trash it generates.
So, I started to investigate my options in terms of producing less food packaging waste. I have grouped my findings into three categories:
- The Type of Packaging (bag, cup, bottle, box, cardboard box, sleeve, etc.)
- The Material Used (plastic, glass, paper, cardboard, etc.)
- Any Care Labels on the Packaging (green dot, recyclability, ecolabels, etc.)
The Type of Packaging
I started from the idea of where I could cut packaging out altogether.
Here is my list of new habits I'm trying to stick with:
- I don’t use any plastic bags for fresh produce (fruits, veggies), and I try to choose products that are not packaged where possible while doing my regular grocery shopping. Please don’t get tricked with biodegradable plastic bags: they are not as environmentally friendly as you think. Everything depends on the combination of materials used. It’s always better not to use anything at all - if possible.
- I always take a reusable shopping bag with me to avoid buying another one. If for some reason, I don’t have one, I’m always buying the paper one because I'm using it for paper trash collection.
- If I want to have a cup of coffee, I try to avoid using a one-time cup. I prefer a regular reusable cup, not the on-the-go option.
- From time to time, I still buy a coffee-to-go from the gas station, and I still find thermal cups inconvenient to wash on the road. But it’s on my list of potential improvements. 😀
Food Packaging Materials
- Plastic, plastic, plastic… “Avoid it”, “don’t use it”. We see and hear it everywhere. But is plastic really so bad? First of all, the plastic itself is not bad. It has numerous favourable properties like being lightweight, strong durability, and, of course, our products last longer in sealed plastic packaging. But we have to recycle it properly and do everything to avoid it getting to the landfill. Let’s not demonize it, but use it correctly, and recycle it properly.
- Some of you may think we can replace all plastic bags with paper ones, but it’s not as straightforward a solution. Let’s start from the beginning as we, researchers, do. 😉 The production of one paper bag takes four times more energy than a plastic one. This means paper bags contribute much more to climate change, and they are made from trees. Also, paper bags are not as durable as plastic ones, especially if they get wet. And, the cherry on top of everything, the paper bags end up with 5 times more solid waste than the plastic ones. (source) To conclude, any bag you buy instead of bringing the reusable one for the weekly shopping is not a super environmentally-friendly idea.
Care Labels on the Packaging
If I use packaged products, how can I reduce the impact and avoid landfilling?
It’s all about the labels.
- Labels are informative and worth paying attention to once you buy any product, especially food. Today, there is much more information about recycling and sorting it, and following the instructions.
- I’ve started to collect glass packaging and recycle it properly. I’m doing the same with cardboard and paper. The challenging part is with organic waste. Our appliances are not designed to have so many sorting options, but there is room for improvement here.
- Try to use as little packaging as possible and only where it is necessary.
- Avoid one-time options. Try reusable packaging everywhere where applicable.
- If you haven’t seen “Seaspiracy”, watch it. 🐬