The actual way of consumption in our industrial society makes it almost impossible to avoid packed goods, so the clue is always about to find the most sustainable solution when doing groceries or shopping. You can start with the question what packaging has the less impact to the environment and your health.
Plastic vs. Paper
When it comes to the decision whether plastic or paper wrapped products are recommended, some background information should be considered at first.
Many studies have shown that the additives in plastic packaging are toxic. They end up in our food and can lead to diseases like cancer, diabetes, the early start of puberty or menopause through the mimics of the hormone oestrogen or allergies. Also, plastic packaging is one of the main sources of waste and the plastic pollution on the land and in the oceans is devastating. Plastic debris originated from plastic bottles or bags decompose at a very slow rate e.g. a bottle labelled with PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is considered as almost indestructible plastic material. In other words, the biodegrading process of a plastic beverage bottle takes 450 years to decompose, a plastic bag takes 10-20 years and a plastic container takes about 20-30 years until its decomposition. Within this process, harmful chemicals are being released into the soil which seep into groundwater and the ecosystem. Recycling plastic as waste-management strategy may appear as a perfect solution for reducing the environmental impact. However, studies have shown that in 2011 in Luxembourg only 45% of plastic packaging waste was recovered and only 15% of the plastic waste has been used in the recycling process (PlasticsEurope, 2013). The rest went for energy recovery in incineration plants, which again has a significant impact on air pollution.
The paper production from recycled paper compared to virgin (white) paper consumes less energy, it conserves the natural resources (wood) and decreases the environmental pollution. Paper recycling causes 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than producing virgin paper (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2007). On the other hand, the water pollution cannot be underestimated. The paper recycling process requires the removal of inks from the used paper with toxic de-inking chemicals such as chlorine. Including the toxic metals from ink itself, the waste water makes its way to the water stream and leads to water pollution. When recycled paper is used as food packaging for example, those chemicals can pass into the food product as well.
Glass As An Alternative?
Definitely yes. First of all, glass is a non-toxic material based on naturel ingredients (sand, soda ash, limestone) and doesn’t release any chemicals into your food products. If recycled, glass is one way to help reduce pollution and waste. It is one of the materials that can be recycled indefinitely without any loss of quality. Glass produced from recycled glass reduces related air pollution by 20% and related water pollution by 50% compared to making glass from raw materials. Another benefit of recycling glass is that glass containers mostly are being recycled into other glass containers which provides a good example of a closed recycling loop. Be aware though that a glass bottle takes about 1 million years to decompose in the environment, so make sure to recycle reasonable.
4 Tips Towards The Right Choice Of Less Packaging Waste:
- Use reusable grocery bags or cotton sacks when doing groceries. Stop buying plastic bags.
- Simply say „NO thanks“ to unnecessary wrapping or bags e.g. in the pharmacy, in the bookstore, at the meat or dairy counter, at the bakery, at the shoe store …
- Buying in bulk: buy fresh and unpacked goods whenever you can. Keep your eyes open and focus on the unpacked products. Dare to bring your own jars to the grocery store and ask friendly to get your product put into them.
- Don’t buy plastic bottles: buy your beverages in glass bottles in exchange for a refundable deposit and use a reusable glass bottle to go instead of small plastic bottles.
- There are many products you can’t find in bulk, so avoid the plastic wrapped goods and focus on unbleached paper/cardboard or biodegradable packaging and glass bottled goods.
- Reuse your paper bags for your next groceries, don’t throw them away. Same for glass bottles and jars, reuse them yourself for homemade jam, fresh herbs, homemade lemonade etc.
- Everything that can’t be avoided e.g. the lids from glass bottles or containers.
- Everything that can’t be refused, reduced or reused.
Upcoming Article: The Meaning Of REFUSING WASTE In Daily Life Routine