At Eco-Pliant, our number one goal is to help educate both consumers and producers on how to help make environmentally friendly decisions around food packaging and food products. One of the most important steps in the decision-making process is being informed. This is why we have decided to start this series to help inform and provide facts to allow everyone to make environmentally friendly consumer decisions.
The first part of our series is based around a question we get all the time. What is the most environmentally friendly food packaging? This article tackles a wide range of products like fiber clamshells, biodegradable soup bowls, and food delivery bags, and we will do our best to keep you informed.
Why Is Plastic Getting A Bad Wrap?
For those who have been under a rock the past couple of years, plastic bans and negative news has started circulating around plastic use. More specifically, single-use plastic is getting a lot of negative attention. But Why?
The reason plastic is getting such a bad wrap is because of how it is created, how we use it, and how it affects our environment. We could literally write a college thesis on single plastic use (I actually did) but here is a simple breakdown.
Plastic use and consumption are exponentially growing thanks to how affordable it is to produce. While some plastics are recyclable, almost 80% of all plastic in the US is not. To double down on the problem, only about 9% of Americans actually recycle plastic.
So where does all the plastic end up? Close to 40% of all plastics do not end up in landfills, they actually end up in the ocean. Since plastic does not biodegrade, we physically will need to clean the plastic out of the oceans, otherwise, it will remain there forever. The environmental effects are horrendous to the oceanic ecosystem and have lasting harmful effects all over the world.
So What Are Other Solutions?
There are two solutions to help limit the amount of single-use plastic consumed. The first is using long-term, multi-use containers, cups, lids, and utensils. Using glass bowls and lids, metal straws, and other multi-use containers will cut back on plastic single-use consumption.
The other option is to use biodegradable materials for single-use containers. This includes options like biodegradable clamshell containers, paper portion cups with lids, and other eco-friendly materials.
We are going to break down each option below and give you some recommendations for each.
Multiple Use Environmentally Friendly Containers and Food Packaging
One of the best solutions is getting away from single-use containers altogether. Reusing containers and packaging is the main benefit to multi-use containers. Glass and metal are the preferred materials to purchase when looking into long term containers like reusable condiment cups.
Pros- Glass comes from naturally occurring material in nature, normally sand or soda ash. Both materials are in abundance and are naturally replenished in natural cycles. Glass is also 100% recyclable.
If, for whatever reason, you need to get rid of your glassware, you can recycle it and know it will be very unlikely to make it to a landfill. There is no difference in grading between the new and recycled glass, so if you do happen to buy recycled glassware, bonus bucks.
Cons- The major con to glass is that it is expensive to purchase compared to other materials and single-use products. It can easily be argued that the investment is worth it however and you can easily maintain your glassware. The investment, though, is higher upfront than any other product.
When we talk about being environmentally friendly we must also talk about what goes into manufacturing the product. Glass requires a very high heat of almost 2500 degrees Celsius. That type of heat requires significant energy consumption, which must come from somewhere.
Pros- Metal packaging and utensils are sturdy, strong, and long-lasting. We are used to metal silverware and metal straws are starting to become more mainstream. Metal is easy to clean and if, for whatever reason, you need to get rid of metal, most metals can be recycled. Metals are a closed-loop recycling process which is the most ideal recycling process.
Cons- Mining metals can come at a great cost. Depending on the metal, the effort needed to mine the metals can be very costly to the environment. The other downfall to metals is the reaction they can have to some foods. Acidic foods should not be stored or contained in metal containers.
Single-Use Environmentally Friendly Containers and Utensils
Occasionally, multiple-use containers and utensils are not an option and to be honest, they can be a hassle. Bringing around a metal straw to use everywhere you go can be a pain. That is why single-use paper and biodegradable materials can help the environment as well. Products like paper straws, compostable salad bowls, and even plant fiber clamshells can replace single-use plastic products.