Consumers overlook the environmental impact of food packaging, an analysis by FoodPrint, an organization that studies food production practices, reports.
“If concern about climate change, the environment, or your personal health are motivating factors for you when it comes to deciding what you eat, it’s important to realize that those same issues are factors when it comes to food packaging,” Jerusha Klemperer, director of FoodPrint, said.
Klemperer said massive environmental issues occur with the way food packaging is made and with how much consumers use and throw away, adding dangerous materials also are present in food packaging.
The abundance of plastic, according to the report, is due to eaters’ love of convenience.
“A lot of packaging, especially single-use food and beverage packaging, is extremely convenient,” he said. Saying no or finding alternatives, such as bringing your own supplies and packaging is time consuming and can be frustrating.
“Plastic is cheap and heavy-duty, and because of its durability – it never really disappears,” Klemperer said. “Some of it is recycled or incinerated, but the majority of it ends up in landfills or as litter in the natural world.”
This litter accumulates into masses such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the Pacific Ocean, located between California and Hawaii that’s estimated to contain at least 70,000 tons of plastic. And, according to Klemperer, the chemicals that leak from plastic – bisphenols, phthalates, and polyfluoroalkyls or PFAs – can interfere with human health and hormones.
The report points out that the power to change how packaging is done is in the hands of consumers. With some effort, consumers can return to the days before single-use food packaging became the standard, he said.
In the past, milk, soda, and seltzer bottles were made out of glass, and consumers returned them to the manufacturer where they were cleaned and refilled. Consumers also regularly brought their own containers into grocers to buy only what they needed in bulk.
Klemperer said it’s a matter of “making a huge cultural shift, away from single-use and back to reuse.”
“But responsibility shouldn’t lie entirely with the consumer,” he said. “Businesses have to step up – and some are – to innovate better ways of making packaging and offering reusable options.”
“We can also ask our government to enact stronger regulations around packaging and plastics,” the report recommends. “More importantly, we need to re-think food packaging and single-use foodservice items, making human health and the environment the priority over convenience.”