From take-out containers to gum wrappers, food packaging is all around us. Have you ever stopped to look at the waste that is produced from a lot of food products? Just yesterday, I opened up a box of cookies someone had given us for Christmas. The outside box was made from cardboard (good, it’s recyclable) but on the inside of the box, the cookies were in a foil wrapper sitting on top of a plastic tray (both of which are not recyclable in my area). What waste!
The more I look around in grocery stores, and sometimes my own cupboards if I’m not careful, the more waste I find. It’s kind of discouraging to be honest. Even cereal boxes with their plastic liners are starting to drive me up the wall. I AM SICK OF WASTE!!!
Let’s look at what eco friendly food packaging really means so I can get over my cookie experience and move forward in a more environmentally friendly way.
What is eco friendly packaging?
Eco friendly packaging is packaging that, over time, reduces its environmental footprint. It is often made with recyclable or renewable materials that are safe and sustainable for both consumers and the environment.
According to The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), sustainable packaging has the following features:
- Is beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
- Meets market criteria for both performance and cost
- Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
- Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
- Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
- Is made from materials that are healthy throughout the life cycle
- Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
- Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed loop cycles
What is the most environmentally friendly food packaging?
This question does not have a cut and dry answer, unfortunately. There are a few factors that make food packaging eco friendly.
- Ingredients used: using 100% recyclable or compostable materials
- Production process: minimizing carbon footprint throughout manufacturing and delivery of product
- Reusability: getting rid of the single-use mentality by making packaging reusable (think travel mugs)
It’s important to note that eco friendly, sustainable packaging does not just mean the final product.
All along the production process, eco friendly practices should be used. To illustrate my point, here is an example of a sustainable food packaging lifecycle:
- Decreased use of fossil fuels as a primary energy source of production.
- Transitioning fossil fuels over to renewable energy from solar energy, wind power, hydroelectric, biofuels, and geothermal over time will contribute to a more sustainable future for companies and their products.
- Clean Production.
- Conservation of raw materials, water, and energy, eliminating toxic and dangerous raw materials, and reducing the quantity and toxicity of all emissions and waste at source during production processes.
- Made From Materials Healthy throughout lifecycle.
- Ensuring all ingredients—including additives, inks, adhesives, and coatings—are safe for human and environmental health throughout their life cycle is a vital aspect of sustainable packaging design.
- Using Recycled or Renewable materials.
- A strong recovery system (local recycling centers) are key with the efficacy of using recyclable or renewable materials. Strengthening the recovery system will go a long way to increase the amount of recoverable material as well as give consumers reassurance that their products and packaging are in fact being recycled.
- Effective recovery means creating the collection and recycling infrastructure necessary to close the loop on materials in order to provide valuable resources for the next generation of production.
As you can tell, eco-friendly food packaging is not just about the end product (the packaging), it takes into consideration ALL of the raw materials needed to bring that product into production, the production process, and how it is recovered at the end of its lifecycle.
To be able to answer the question, what is the most environmentally friendly food packaging is almost impossible without deep-diving into every single food packaging company. It’s not as simple as looking at their final packaging product.
My advice to you is if you are looking for a truly eco friendly food packaging product – Do your research. Research the company you want to purchase from and see if they are taking steps to become a more sustainable company. Look at the whole puzzle and not just the final piece.
Keep in mind that big changes like sustainability take time to implement, so check out what their strategic plan is over the next 5 or 10 years and see if becoming a sustainable company is on their plan and how they are proposing to become more sustainable.
Do you have a favorite go-to company for sustainable food packaging? What is your biggest pet-peeve when it comes to food packaging? Let me know in the comments below. If you couldn’t tell by my intro, my biggest pet peeve is unnecessary packaging.
Cheers, and have an awesome day!