How to Sustainably Package Your Food Products
Plastic food packaging poses innumerable environmental and public health risks, including accumulation in natural habitats, carbon emissions and endocrine system disruption. Yet, plastic remains one of the most common types of food packaging.
In recent years, however, a demand for sustainability has prompted many producers and distributors to think twice about plastic packaging. Now, there are a myriad of eco-friendly alternatives available.
Of course, the most sustainable packaging is no packaging at all. However, purchasing unwrapped food isn’t always an option. Instead, consumers can learn how to sustainably package food using materials that are better for the environment and their health.
The next time you have to go grocery shopping or wrap up leftovers, opt for the following alternatives to do yourself and the planet some good.
1. Use Biodegradable Materials
Petroleum-based plastic products are non-biodegradable, which means they’ll stick around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. As they decompose, these materials break down into microplastics, which contaminate the environment and threaten both fragile ecosystems and human health.
Luckily, there are plenty of biodegradable packaging materials available, including rice husks, bioplastics and other plant-based products. Opt for compostable ones that decompose into organic material if they do end up in a landfill or wildlife habitat.
2. Buy Products with Edible Films and Coatings
According to a recent survey, 68% of grocery store shoppers believe that healthy food and beverage producers should also invest in healthy, sustainable packaging. That’s why so many companies are removing plastic wrapping from fresh produce and preserving it, instead, with a gelatin-based coating. This material is edible and can even inhibit bacteria growth, making it a much safer alternative to plastic wrap, Ziploc bags and even cardboard containers.
Look for apples, cucumbers, tomatoes and other food products with a shiny coating to find and buy products featuring this especially sustainable packaging.
3. Rely on Recyclable Materials
If you’re unable to find foods with an edible film, items that come in recyclable packaging are your next best bet. Think glass mason jars, stainless steel bottles and paper packaging. You can even recycle aluminum foil so long as it’s clean of food debris. It’s good practice to wash non-porous recyclable materials anyway to ensure they get a second life rather than end up in a landfill.
4. Invest in Reusable Packaging
Investing in reusable materials is another great way to sustainably package your food products and save money along the way. Reduce waste and maximize your budget by using beeswax wraps, Tupperware containers, and plastic bags.
You can even repurpose some materials like glass mason jars, carry-out containers and even liquor bottles to store both solid and liquid food products. Use fabric bags to package everything from ginger to bananas and keep them in your kitchen pantry. The solutions are limitless when you let your imagination run wild.
5. Use Paper Bags
Food waste is a huge issue, especially in the United States. Luckily, certain packaging materials like paper can prolong the life of some food products so they don’t spoil so quickly.
For instance, many vegetables will last more than a week if you wrap them in a damp paper towel and keep them in the crisper drawer. Porous paper can also keep cheese and mushrooms fresh by reducing moisture levels and promoting air circulation.
6. Stick Food In the Freezer
Of course, freezing food products can also extend their shelf life and make your kitchen more sustainable. Plus, if you have an energy-efficient fridge, it may prove more sustainable than plastic packaging.
Use ice cube trays as reusable containers for herbs, oil, pureed veggies and fruit juice. Store raw fruit in resealable freezer bags and blanch or cook whole vegetables before sticking them in the freezer.
7. Keep Some Items Separate
Whatever packaging you use, keeping certain foods separate from one another can also extend their shelf life and make food storage more sustainable. For instance, bananas emit more ethylene than any other fruit.
This gas can quickly ripen avocados and tomatoes and turn potatoes bad in a matter of days. Thus, it’s best to store the fruit on its own to prevent your other produce from spoiling too quickly. Apples, cantaloupes, figs and honeydew also emit ethylene, so they keep best on your kitchen counter.
8. Treat Herbs Like Flowers
Once again, the most sustainable kind of packaging is no packaging at all. Luckily, you can get away with using little to no packaging to store some items, even if they come in plastic from the get-go.
For instance, fresh herbs often last the longest in a glass of water, even though most people keep them in the fridge. Treat basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro and other leafy herbs like bouquets of flowers, and you’re sure to reduce food waste and minimize your need for unnecessary packaging.
Learning How to Sustainably Package Food with What You Have on Hand
With all this talk about sustainable packaging, you might be tempted to go buy new containers, bags, jars and the like. Yet, tossing perfectly good Tupperware containers isn’t exactly an eco-friendly approach. Instead of buying more materials and using up more resources — however sustainable they may be — try to use items you already have. Even if they’re plastic, using them until they’re old and worn is the best way to reduce waste and protect the earth.
The longer you can use these and other at-home packaging materials, the longer you can divert them from the local landfill. When you are finally ready to replace them, opt for materials that are either biodegradable or recyclable and reuse them as much as possible. That way you won’t feel so guilty the next time you want to upgrade or replace them.
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