Let’s be honest, Episode 6: Packaging

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle’s project with the aim to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to make life more sustainable, as well as the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try, instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a uniquely multicultural environment.


Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!




The United Nations declared a planetary crisis due to plastic pollution. The packaging system not only requires the usage of poisonous chemicals, as well as damaging materials but also causes harm during the disposal. Additionally, it generates damage to the environment during production and supply by e.g. using land and energy resources. Most packaging is designed for single-use and not recycled (Food Print, 2018) In 2014 only 35% of the plastic waste was recycled or reused (EPA, n.d.). The wasted package ends up in landfills, where it takes hundreds of years to decompose. Even if plastic is recycled, which takes less energy and results in less environmental harm than using raw material, the damage is still enormous. For reusing plastic, fossil fuel is used. The process of plastic recycling causes greenhouse gas emissions.

However, in so-called developing countries the food rots before even reaching the stores due to lack of packaging. The plastic package guarantees longer usage, cleanliness, and edibility (Carter, n.d.) How can we prevent food waste and package reduction at the same time? This will be the question the next Faces of Food Waste article will seek answers on. So stay tuned for the analysis on possible ways to get a balance between reducing food waste and food packaging!

For now, this article will focus on tips and tricks on how to easily reduce package waste when consuming food, which (what a shocker) we all do. Simply using other materials is not a solution. Most alternatives mean environmental damage as well. To exemplify, changing to paper bags and Tetra Paks as packages means environmentally harmful production, as well as disposal into landfills as well.

Proceeding from this premise, what can we do to reduce our plastic waste and not cause equal harm with using other materials?

  • One of the aspects that should be considered is transportation. Try to buy goods with packaging that was locally produced.

  • Get informed on the alternatives. Paper packaging takes four times the amount of energy to be produced than plastic packaging does. Besides: Recycling paper requires more energy than recycling plastic.

  • The most effective way to decrease our harmful impact is to reduce our package usage. Consumers' trash separation also has huge consequences for the success of recycling (Carter, n.d.). This mostly means separating recyclable from non-recyclable trash (Koelsch, 2019). Don’t underestimate the impact sorting your wasted packaging has!

  • To avoid packaging, Zero-Waste stores are a good idea. More and more stores are opening up. Find the ones in your city and bring your containers (that you of course reuse). It becomes more and more possible to bring your own containers. Just ask and try.

  • The most important rule to keep in mind to ensure the reduction of packaging is to reuse. Stock up your reusable bottles and containers. Try avoiding single-use packaging as much as possible. A lot of countries have tap water that you can safely drink. Get yourself an (environmentally friendly produced) bottle and save plastic or glass. I can recommend Klean Kanteen. They also offer much else, like reusable metal straws or mugs to avoid using harmful to-go cups. There are more and more brands producing reusable goods that ensure environmentally friendly production and usage.

  • You can also try to use less damaging packaging as a first step. There are biodegradable and compostable materials that can be used for keeping food fresh and safe.

There are many ways to reduce packaging. It's important to emphasize that the responsibility not only lies on the consumer’s side of the course. Nevertheless, this blog series is for conversation and this article aims at opening up the conversation on the enormous mass of packaging we generate. We as individuals have a lot of impacts. What we consume, influences the production of goods. Support businesses and organizations therefore that support zero-waste policies, production, and supply. Let’s vote with our wallets and lifestyle to reduce packaging.


Author and Editor: Lea Annikki Kaiser


References

Carter, B. (n.d.). The Impact of Packaging on the Environment: Is Plastic the Only Demon? Eco & Beyond. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://www.ecoandbeyond.co/articles/the-impact-of-packaging-on-the-environment/

EPA. (n.d.). US State and Local Waste and Materials Characterization Reports | US EPA. US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/us-state-and-local-waste-and-materials

Food Print. (2018, October 8). The Environmental Impact of Food Packaging. FoodPrint. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://foodprint.org/issues/the-environmental-impact-of-food-packaging/

Koelsch, C. (2019, February 1). How to Reduce Packaging Waste. IFT. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issues/2019/february/columns/packaging-how-to-reduce-packaging-waste


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