Unsustainable Packaging: The Environmental Impact
Food packaging continues to develop at an alarming rate.
It is a way to keep food safe, transportable, and long-lasting. However, it is often designed more with convenience in mind and less so with sustainability .
Despite our perishing planet and the outcry for climate change initiatives, packaging continues to be manufactured from plastic and thrown into landfills.
This is a huge problem and one that needs to be addressed.
In this article, we will be taking a look at the environmental impact of using unsustainable packaging.
Common Types of Food Packaging
Many types of food packaging in use today differ depending on where the food is purchased and its intended use. For example:
Grocery Stores: supply chains sell all kinds of food packaging, from plastics to cardboard and glass. However, most supermarket products come encased in multiple layers of plastic, resulting in vast amounts of plastic being sent to landfills.
Takeout Containers: takeaways are prevalent, but they often come wrapped in plastic or Styrofoam containers and are delivered in plastic bags with plastic cutlery and straws.
Processed Foods: multiple layers of plastic packaging are widespread for processed foods as they help items last longer. Unfortunately, many food items that were once wrapped in paper, stored in glass jars or metal cans are now wrapped in multiple layers of plastic. This is having a detrimental effect on the health of our planet.
The Environmental Impact of Unsustainable Packaging
Most of today’s packaging is designed as single-used, meaning it typically gets thrown away rather than reused or recycled.
Plastics play a significant part in the state of our planet and environmental issues.
The impact of plastic packaging is so huge that the Ocean Conservancy found that 7 of the top 10 items collected contained plastic.
That plastic is ending up in landfills, in the ocean, and littering our landscapes, where it threatens human, avian, and marine life.
Some scientists have even discovered that microplastics pollute soils and oceans, eventually making their way into the food chain and being ingested by humans!
The Impact of Plastic Packaging on Animals
Plastic packaging doesn’t just stay in landfills. It gets thrown onto the side of the road and carried by the wind or the oceans to some of the world’s farthest corners.
All the plastic bottles, Styrofoam containers, plastic straws, bottle caps, six-pack holders, and plastic bags are regularly mistaken by animals as food.
We’ve all seen the pictures and read the stories of the devastating effects of plastic on animals.
From entanglement to death, birds have been found with stomachs full of plastics, turtles have drowned with plastic six-pack rings wrapped around their bodies, and so much more.
What’s even more disturbing is that, according to reports , “Plastic has been found in 59% of sea birds like albatross and pelicans, in 100% of sea turtle species and more than 25% of fish sampled from seafood markets around the world.”
Air Pollution Caused by Food Packaging
However, it’s not just the world’s oceans and animals being negatively affected by plastic pollution; the problem is also polluting the air.
Food packaging that isn’t recyclable or compostable is typically sent to landfills or incinerated. But unfortunately, this doesn’t solve anything.
Both of these waste ‘solutions’ release pollutants into the air, such as greenhouse gasses.
Plastic packaging can emit sulfur dioxides, nitrous oxides, particulates, lead, and mercury, to name a few! And all of this is being released into the atmosphere!
What Can be Done?
Sometimes, the problem of plastic pollution can feel overwhelming.
Reading the statistics above and seeing the extent of the plastic overflowing at landfill sites, as well as the impact on animals, can all feel like a weight on your shoulders.
For many, the problem feels insurmountable. However, even small changes can make a difference. Often, the revolution starts with one person willing to lead the way and make a change (think of Greta Thunberg!)
The best way to reduce the impact of consumer packaging is to prioritise better choices. What you buy will directly influence the amount of waste you create.
And while recycling can help minimise this problem, there are some basic choices you can make that eliminate the need for packaging.
Below we have listed a couple of helpful tips:
- Carry reusable shopping bags, so you don’t need to use plastic bags.
- Use reusable coffee mugs, stainless steel lunch boxes, and reusable drink bottles.
- Use stainless steel or paper straws.
- Buy loose fruit and veg or (better yet) order a veg box online and receive all your fruit and veg in one cardboard box – no plastic packaging on-site!
- Shop at stores that sell items by weight, letting you fill up jars with muesli, washing up liquid, or flour to save on packaging.
- Avoid buying plastic packaging wherever and whenever possible.
- Make your food from scratch where possible, as whole foods require less packaging.
- Consider growing and preserving your food.
- Recycle everything you can (check out these 20 recycling tips !).
Sustainability is a global problem and one that needs to be tackled head-on.
The packaging industry has a considerable part to play in saving our planet. We can do our bit in ensuring sustainable packaging is the priority for everyone, from small business start-ups to large conglomerates.
We hope the tips in this article have inspired you to make changes in your own life and reevaluate how you can reduce the amount of packaging you use.