How different types of packaging affect the environment - Risks of Convenient Food Packaging

How different types of packaging affect the environment - Risks of Convenient Food Packaging

Is your favourite product really packaged in a way that will preserve the environment? To answer that, we need to understand the differences between the popular types of packaging and how the industry may be misleading you.

Here at MakerBars we are literally nuts about packaging. No like I mean obsessed! We keep every single wrapper of a competitor’s bar and we evaluate how they describe it. It is so important to us because food wrappers have been declared the No. 1 polluter in Canada by Greenpeace. In fact, our newest packaging has been made from cellulose and can be tossed in your home composter. Let’s challenge the status quo, and divert those wrappers entirely!

Here’s some research we wanted to share with you so you can educate yourself. Of course, we are still learning more ourselves. We’d encourage you to leave a comment below :) 

Compostable Food Packaging

To be considered compostable, products must meet criteria for American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D6868 [1] or ASTM D6400 [2]. These criteria are specific, but in summary, they require a quick composting process and humus that supports plant life. At MakerBars, this is the option we choose for our products; every packet can be broken down in just nine months. Usually this compostable technology isn’t plastic at all, it's made out of plants (not oils). It is so easy that you could even do it at home!

bio - compostable bag holding red gala apples. lots of apples.

Biodegradable Food Packaging

On the other hand, the rule for biodegradable packaging is not so well-defined. According to the Search Biodegradable Products Institute, biodegradable "is where under the right conditions, the microbes in the environment can break down the material and use it as a food source" [3] For this reason, many companies claim their products are biodegradable and promote them as being environmentally conscious. However, it could be that the process requires unusual circumstances to occur, and could otherwise take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Therefore, be skeptical of biodegradable claims and do more research on their certification. These plastics are somewhat controversial, and evidence suggest they do not biodegrade completely as the manufacturer claims. Instead they break into microplastics that can persist in the environment.

 floating plastic bag from grocery store with solid grey background. Floating bag which almost looks flat but curled on edges.

Traditional Food Packaging

Many of the traditional household packages are not recyclable. Chip bags, for example, have different layers of foil and plastic, which is awful for the environment. Recycling usually requires separating different materials, and that is not easily done. Plastic bottles are another great example, as they may never biodegrade and are mostly left unrecycled. One option is to partner with groups such as Terracycle, but we don’t feel this targets the root cause. The packaging itself needs an upgrade. 

Other Types of Food Packaging

New types of packaging have come out to preserve the environment. Omnidegradable®, for example, is a type of plastic that breaks down in any environment [4]. These will decompose in less than five years, which is excellent compared to the 500+ years for plastic. However, during the decomposition process, the package might still break down into microplastic, so we should always beware. No one wants our environment (and animals) to be affected by microplastics...

 hands holding three types of take out (takeaway) packaging, one kraft brown, one made of paper, and one multi tray food server. tan background.

Conclusion - What to Choose?

Overall, it is important to look for biodegradable or compostable labels. Nonetheless, we must think critically of them. Our suggestion is to go with Compostable whenever you can, as the criteria are strict and guarantee a reliable composting process.

In this article we've only examined on-the-go packaged foods. It is important to use re-useable items for long periods of time to offset these challenges we face of pollution.


What is Zero Waste?

Better yet! We challenge you to go ZERO Waste. Try it out. Set yourself up for a zero-waste 1-week challenge. Here’s how:

  1. Get a out a mason jar
  2. Aim to use the smallest amount of plastic through the week. When you do, keep it and place it in the mason jar as a reminder.
  3. An example we often overlook is our laundry lint. 
  4. You’ll be surprised! At the end of the week, take a picture of it and share it with your network. Ask them if they’ve taken a 1-week zero-waste challenge. 
  5. Be mindful, reflect. What are ways I can minimize plastic waste. It’s only necessary in certain circumstances. 






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