Why is Eco-Friendly Packaging So Important?

Each year the average American goes through over 250lbs of plastic waste – most of it comes from food packaging. In fact, the EPA estimates that one-third of America’s municipal solid waste comes from packaging. Both the manufacture of the packaging and the impact of disposing of it contribute to the generation of unfathomable amounts of waste. [1]

Most food packaging is designed to be single use and is not recycled.  As a result, packaging is discarded, only to find a new home in our waterways. In fact, the disposal of packaging waste is so prolific, the United Nations has declared the plastic pollution of oceans “a planetary crisis.” [2]

Toxins in our food packaging?

It’s not just our ecosystems suffering at the hand of plastic packaging, adverse health consequences from extended exposure to environmental chemicals are real and compromise the normal function of our body’s systems [3]

A recent 2020 study has found that some food packaging contains hazardous chemicals linked to cancer, fertility, and birth defects. Previous studies have shown similar results. Moreover, the scientists have found more than 170 dangerous chemicals legally used in the production of food packaging. They warned the toxic substances, which were found to cause cancer and inflict changes on genes, could end up in the food they contain. Phthalates, which are widely used as plasticizers, are just one example of substances which can cause male fertility and cancer. [4]

Another 2020 study of popular chain restaurants found potentially hazardous ‘forever’ chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAs, as well as fluorine, in wrappings, bowls, and trays. [5]

And it’s Not Just the Packaging.

According to Bamboo Ink (2018), vegetable-based inks are preferred for food packaging or anything that might come in contact with food. Vegetable-based ink was used up until the early 1970s but manufacturers turned to petroleum-based ink during a shortage of vegetable oils at the time. And so here we are. Both benzophenones and organotin, with their known endocrine disrupting properties, are commonly used print inks and found on the coatings of food wrappings. Further, petroleum-based inks release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) as they dry, and because they need harsher solvents, they release more VOCs, creating greenhouse gasses and thus contributing to global warming. Conversely, vegetable-based inks, such as, soy, linseed, safflower, and canola are fast-growing, renewable, and release nothing. Fortunately, plant-based ink is seeing a resurgence in popularity. [6]

Given the global increase in plastic waste and its significant negative impact on the planet and our health, eco-friendly packaging is becoming more readily available and in some of the most creative ways.

In addition to bioplastics made from plants, polyesters made from corn perform like the polyethylene used in plastic films. Other new sources include paper and plastic made from stone (calcium carbonate), milk plastic or casein (a protein found in milk) is mixed with clay and a reactive molecule, making it both long-lasting and sturdy. [7]

There is an increasing demand, and indeed a movement, toward more favorable qualities in packaging that includes using both reusable and renewable materials, sourcing, manufacturing, and transporting with a low impact on energy consumption and our natural resources, and the absence of toxic materials in packaging production. In fact, three food manufacturers whose packaging contains a type of PFAS called 6:2 FTOH, an extremely persistent ‘forever’ chemical, have announced they will phase it out over the course of three years [8].

According to scientists across the globe, toxic chemicals found in food packaging can pose a risk to both personal and environmental health. Eco-friendly packaging is a preferred alternative because it is made from recycled or sustainable plant-based products that are considerably easier and safer to dispose of. These products can be compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, re-usable, and/or non-toxic, and, therefore, not persistent in our ecosystems or bodies. Many and varied eco-friendly packaging options are currently available for use and many more are in development. With time and commitment, we can negate the need for toxic food packaging entirely. [9]








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