Food packaging has simply gotten out of hand, or — and far worse — it’s constantly in our hands. It’s hard to buy anything without it being wrapped in plastic these days. Even our organic produce often comes displayed on Styrofoam trays covered in clear plastic. Then, if our vegetables haven’t been packaged for us, the status quo is to put each individual type of produce in its own special plastic bag. At the checkout, all of these bagged up veggies are shoved into another plastic bag to take home and — What happens there? — we unpack it all.
Pasta, beans, rice, candy, chips, bread, cereal, oats—just about everything, from food staples to treats, comes in plastic packaging now. We have all manner of baggage, cellophane wrappers, bottles, jugs, and jars galore. It’s even possible, likely, to buy packaged collections of packaged items, all those nifty little single-serving lunchbox stuffers. What’s more is that we’ve got our own plastic wrap and Ziploc bags for when we need to package unpackaged items again. For Earth’s sake, where does it stop? Why do we package this way?
Undoubtedly, some packaging is necessary. It’s difficult to buy a pound of rice with nothing to put it in. Additionally, at times, packages are used to maintain freshness and protect products from damage, such as those airy bags of tortilla chips. And, until we are all eating locally produced food, some measures must be taken to keep our food edible long enough to transport it and sell it. Sometimes, it’s necessary, legally, to provide consumers with information and/or instructions. The idea is that packaging works ecologically by preventing food losses, which according to some is a much more environmentally damaging factor than some excess packaging.
But, minimally astute observation reveals packaging isn’t simply a functional thing. While some is necessary, companies have gone way overboard: individually wrapped cheese slices, a plastic bag of half a dozen tiny cartons of ice cream, and microwave dinners in plastic trays sealed with cellophane then put into cardboard boxes wrapped in more clear wrap. And, what about those little plastic containers of fresh mushrooms sealed with clear wrap? Mushrooms go bad more quickly this way!
So, why? Why do companies package this way? Unfortunately, a lot of it falls on us as consumers. We want squeeze-y bottles and pretty pictures on our products. We want to just grab a plastic bag of beans rather than weighing them out by putting them in a paper sack. We want pre-made sandwiches, microwaveable dinners, and portioned out processed products. Companies package things as much to sell them as they do to protect them.
But, this excess packaging is not sustainable.
It doesn’t take a lot of studies to conclude that wrapping something three times with mix materials isn’t the most ecological method of packaging. And, while technically most packaging materials are recyclable, it just isn’t happening. Many people just don’t bother. As well, contaminated items can ruin a recycling batch. According to the EPA, nearly a third of US landfills are occupied by packaging. Over a quarter of our trash is paper and cardboard, and twelve percent consist of plastics. And, of course, plastics are not going to disappear this millennium.
Due to rising consumer concern about plastic packaging, in particular, many companies have been making efforts to go greener and healthier with their packages. Eden Foods, Hienz, Hunts, and Trader Joe’s have all stopped using BPA, a harmful plastic lining in canned foods. Long ago, Whole Foods banned plastic bags, as did Ray’s Food Place, C&K Market, Shop Smart, and Lo Buck$. Luckily, lots of eco-friendly packaging companies are offering alternatives for those businesses looking to get environmental. Be Green Packaging has some great packaging products on offer.
And, we can do something about it too!
If businesses can make an effort to be greener, then so can we. There are loads of little things we can stop doing to help, like buying bottled water (a horrible atrocity of modern life), bagging our loose vegetables, and accepting those plastic bags at the checkout. And, there are loads of things that we can start doing: utilizing reusable containers, buying products from companies making the effort, and recycling or reusing or upcycling those things we can. When it comes to food, for our good health and the health of the planet, it simply makes sense to buy fresh, local food, as opposed to processed and packaged.
Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.
Image Source: Ananyaalien/Wikimedia Commons