When looking to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills and decrease greenhouse gases, food packaging is one of the most important things we need to look at if we want to improve these things. You might be great at recycling packaging while you’re at home, but takeaway packaging might be a different story. If you visit your favourite coffee shop and they only offer non-recyclable takeaway cups, you might be forced to use one and throw it away if you don’t have your own reusable one to hand. It’s the little things like this that are actually affecting the environment, so let’s explore food packaging and its impact.
Creating food packaging in itself causes harm to the environment. Plastic production uses different fossil fuels during the process which we know are damaging. Not only is the creation of plastic harmful, but the manufacturing process releases greenhouse gases into the air, causing the Earth’s temperature to increase. Glass packaging, although often reusable, still is processed using fossil fuels and produces greenhouse gases. Paper manufacturing uses more water as the mills that create the pulp require it to run effectively. Although fewer greenhouse gases are emitted when making paper and cardboard, using more water means more energy is needed during the process.
Disposing of food packaging can be difficult too. Especially when certain parts are recyclable and other parts aren’t. This could make it more likely to end up in the landfill as it’s an inconvenience to take it apart just to recycle one section. Landfills are currently overflowing with food packaging so making a move to fully recyclable materials is needed. However, if more packaging was bio-degradable, then it wouldn’t be as harmful to send it to the landfill as it will break down naturally over time. For example, if a sandwich is packaged in a cardboard box, at a landfill it will only take around 3 months to degrade. Whereas, if it’s packaged in a plastic box, this can take anywhere from 50 to 450 years to degrade, depending on the plastic. This is why it’s important that not only that food packaging is recyclable, but it’s also bio-degradable. Otherwise, landfills will keep stacking up and they can contaminate water supplies and release hazardous chemicals into the air.
Impacts On Nature
Plastic is a huge threat to wildlife, especially birds and sea creatures. So much plastic ends up in the ocean and either hurts the animals or accidentally gets eaten, both of which can potentially cause death. Birds have been found with plastic in their stomachs which has led to them passing away. Even larger marine animals like whales are affected by food packaging. Plastic bags are easily swallowed when they feed which again, causes detrimental effects to their health. Without a natural ecosystem on land and in the sea, the Earth will struggle to survive.
Greenhouse gases are called so because they essentially turn the planet into a greenhouse. This then causes the temperature to rise, damaging the ice caps which then forces sea levels higher. Creating and disposing of food packaging results in these gases being emitted into the air and the more they’re released, the more damage is done. This is why swapping to alternatives like paper and reusable packaging is essential as it drastically reduces the amount of gas polluting the air.
How Can I Help?
It’s difficult to know how you can help negate the effects food packaging has on the environment, as it’s on such a grand scale. But just because you’re one person, doesn’t mean the changes you make don’t matter. If everyone thought like this, nothing would ever change for the better. Start small and grab yourself a reusable coffee cup and try to recycle as much as the packaging will allow. You could even bring your own food tubs from home if you’re going to grab food to take away. All of these little changes add up and help to combat the damage caused by food packaging.