Almost 60% of plastic products produced and used worldwide are used in food packaging, this results in around 228 million metric tons used on food packaging alone. The drastically negative effects of plastic usage are encouraging more and more people to try other, more sustainable alternatives concerning food packaging.
Plastics can harm not only the environment via accumulation in oceans and landfills, but in the body as well, through micro and nanoplastics and other toxins found in plastic packaging which can be ingested and cause health risks due to their endocrine-disrupting components.
Eco-friendly packaging commonly uses sustainable bioplastics and plant-based extracts like wheat, wood, and bamboo, which are both biodegradable and non-hazardous.
Glass is reusable, recyclable, durable, and moderately priced. It is also easy to clean and maintain and can last up to 3.5 times longer than plastic making it environmentally friendly, safe, and a better investment.
The downside to glass containers is that they are not leak-proof, making them less suitable for travel. When choosing glass containers with lids that are leak-free, be sure to try to find products with lids (if they’re plastic) that are made without bisphenol-A (BPA), which is a known endocrine-disruptor.
Food-grade stainless steel is a very safe, rust-free, heat-resistant and durable choice for food storage—it is also reusable and recyclable. Most use leak-free, BPA-free silicone lids. Glass containers with stainless steel lids are a great eco-friendly combination.
Bamboo is incredibly biodegradable and most desirable for food storage due to its durability and heat resistance. However, bamboo and other plant fiber containers, are more susceptible to wear and tear more easily than glass or stainless steel.
Rice husk is a byproduct of rice farming that is low-cost and both renewable and biodegradable; studies have shown that rice husk has bio-absorbent properties which allow it to absorb pollutants from the environment. Sealable lunch boxes and shatterproof serving bowls are common products found made with risk husk
Gelatin films are becoming more popular due to their low-cost, non-toxicity, and reliability. The FDA states that gelatin is generally safe as a food additive. Gelatin film is filled with antimicrobial cellulose that inhibits the growth of common pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses like E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Overall, gelatin film is a safer alternative to plastics.
Generally, plastics that should be avoided are single-use plastics, such as takeout containers, straws, bottle caps, styrofoam cups, and plastic bags, which are filled with many additives like stabilizers, fillers, flame retardants, and antimicrobials. They aren’t biodegradable, and instead break down into micro and nanoplastics. The chemicals added to single use plastics also cause the disruption of endocrine disorders and cancers in humans.
All plastics with BPA migrate from the packaging and into the food itself which can cause health issues when ingested. Some issues include infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome, and other metabolic disorders.
BioPak, The Robinette Company, PrimeWare, PouchEco, and Ecologic Brands are some companies at the forefront of biodegradable and sustainable food packaging.