Plastic food packaging has been a topic of discussion due to its impact on the environment. However, it also comes with several benefits for both customers and the environment. In this blog article, we will discuss the different types of plastic food packaging available in the market, its environmental impact, and innovations that make it more sustainable.
Plastic food packaging allows for longer shelf life and reduces spoilage, which ultimately saves money for customers by preventing wasted food. Moreover, the containers are lightweight, convenient to use and transport. It is also less likely to break than glass alternatives making them ideal for shipping over long distances without damage.
However, plastic food packaging has negative impacts on our planet like marine pollution and carbon footprint as it takes decades or even hundreds of years before plastics degrade completely.. Innovations such as biodegradable plant-based plastics are being developed that can help reduce these concerns significantly making it a promising technology in reducing waste.
Plastic Food Packaging Benefits for Both Customers and Environment
Plastic food packaging has received a lot of negative press in recent years, but it’s actually more beneficial than we think. Here are some tangible benefits:
Improved Food Safety and Hygiene
- Sealed plastic packaging helps avoid contamination by bacteria or other external factors that can spoil your food.
- In-store, pre-packaged fruits and vegetables are constantly monitored to make sure they meet safety standards
Extended Shelf Life
- Fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy ingredients packaged in plastic can last up to three times longer without losing their nutritional value compared to unpacked counterparts.
- Vacuum-sealed bags or preservation films keep the air out which prevents oxidation so maintaining freshness is easier.
Convenience for Customers
- Packaging is made to grab on-the-go items that need an immediate snack like a bag of chips or ready-to-drink minute maid juices.
- You don’t have to clean containers since you only need a one-time use along with convenience carry handles & multi-storage compartments optimized for effortless handling.
Reduction in Food Waste
- Huge amounts of global food waste happen during transportation because there’s no proper packing mechanism. Packing food items safely reduces spilling-, dropping-, bumping/damaging- making then disposal lessen compared to getting rid off whole produce due lack of keeping quality until it reaches the consumer’s table which in turn reduces related landfill wastes thru separating bio wastes from plastics – adopting zero waste lifestyle approach will be significant help locally & globally reducing carbon footprint together .
Lower Carbon Footprint Compared to Other Packaging Materials
- Plastic food packaging has less greenhouse gas emission in its production compared to its counterparts such as metal, paper, or glass because it consumes less quantity of energy and resource during its manufacturing process
- Transportation & storage reduce losses hence saving fuel by making more efficient use of the trucks used to deliver it to your local grocery store.
Despite this list of benefits, plastic food packaging still presents environmental challenges; it falls primarily on humans taking a responsible step towards disposing safely in proper channels for recycling & causing the least damage possible when being discarded off.
Types of Plastic Food Packaging
Plastic is one of the most commonly used materials in food packaging due to its durability, versatility, and cost-effectiveness. However, not all plastics are created equal, and each type has its own benefits and drawbacks.
PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
- PET is commonly used for water bottles, salad dressing containers, and peanut butter jars because it is clear and lightweight.
- It is recyclable but can only be recycled once before losing its quality.
- This type of plastic may leach chemicals into the food if exposed to heat or acidic foods over time.
HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
- HDPE is commonly used for milk jugs, juice bottles, and cereal box liners because it is opaque and lightweight.
- It has a lower risk of chemical leaching compared to other types of plastic but cannot tolerate high temperatures well.
- This type of plastic is easily recycled multiple times without losing its quality.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
- PVC is commonly used for cling wrap products like sandwich bags or tablecloths because it can create a tight seal around the contents being wrapped up.
A- It’s durable due to its unique composition which includes non-porous polymerization that makes heating faster than other materials.
B- Transparency makes PVC perfect for use in packaging films e. g various edible items.
C- Versatile, easy to customize and decorate, UV resistant and thermally stable form.
LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
- LDPE is commonly used for sandwich bags, freezer bags and flexible lids. It’s mainly chosen because they require zip-lock facilities with greater flexibility.
- PP is commonly used for yogurt containers and medicine bottles due to its high melting point which means it can hold hot liquid materials easily without deforming in shape or shifting out during transit/storage time.
This owes to the feature of lower production cost relative to others. PP also poses a major contribution towards reducing environmental impact due ot being one of the most recycled plastic types available on our planet.
In comparison with other packaging materials like paperboard or glass, plastic can have a smaller carbon footprint due to being lighter weight which saves fuel consumption i. e transportation process emits less carbon dioxide as compared generally affected by other processes across industrial sectors. When looking at overall usability versus recycling ease ratios demanded by environment conscious clients nowadays; some types are more viable than others so there isn’t any perfect solution when it comes down choosing the right type plastic for food packaging purposes.
Environmental Impact of Plastic Food Packaging
Plastic food packaging has received a lot of negative attention due to its potential impact on the environment. However, there are several misconceptions about plastic packaging and its environmental impact that should be addressed.
Misconceptions about plastic packaging and the environment
- Myth: All plastic packaging is non-biodegradable.
Facts: There are biodegradable plastics made from renewable materials such as cornstarch that can break down in composting conditions.
- Myth: Using paper or glass instead of plastic reduces environmental impact.
Facts: The production and transportation of paper and glass have their own environmental impacts. Additionally, they can be heavier than plastic, leading to higher carbon emissions during transportation.
- Myth: Reusable containers are always more environmentally friendly than single-use containers.
Facts: While reusable containers may reduce waste, they require energy and resources for washing and sterilizing.
Comparison of plastic packaging with other materials in terms of environmental impact
- Cumulative Energy Demand (CED): The total amount of energy needed throughout the lifecycle
- Brewer LDPE: 76 MJ/kg
- Metal Cans (aluminum): 164 MJ/kg
- Eutrophication Acidification Potential (EAP): Losses of N, P, & S-oxide converts them into acids which ultimately results in acid rain
- Brewer LDPE: 20 gm SO2 eq. /kg
- Carbon Footprint: The amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by a product throughout its lifecycle
- Brewer LDPE: 7. 64 kg CO2e/kg
- Glass: 18. 15 kg CO2e/kg
- Ecotoxicity Hazard Potential (EHP) and Ozone depletion potential : Estimation on how the media and the species would be affected in terms of exposure with time.
- Brewer LDPE:
EHP: 0. 02 CTUe/kg, ODP: 1. 4E-10 KG CFC-11 Eq. /kg
- Brewer LDPE:
Recycling and disposal of plastic food packaging
While plastic food packaging can have negative environmental impacts if not disposed of properly, it can also be recycled and reused.
- Please ensure all relevant plastic codes are understood before recycling.
- Plastic Resin Identification Code (RID): This code from #1 to#7 must be known before you recycle your plastics as each represents different materials that behave differently.
- #1 PET or PETE(Polyethylene Terephthalate), clear for water bottles, soda bottles etc.. This becomes polyester fibres for clothings when recycled. The use is limited because it has been reported to leach antimony trioxide when exposed to high temperature thus causing health issues especially in children.
- #2 HDPE(High Density Polyethylene)opaque containers including milk jugs (avoid painting & storing detergents in them). Do not microwave items made up of HDPE.
- #3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), used nowadays for almost all electric wire coverings, pipes and floors. Most dangerous so avoid using them whenever possible. Can excrete harmful chemicals like phthalate, dioxin and methyl chloride in drinking water.
- #4 LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene), squeezable bottles, grocery bags. Does not release harmful chemicals thus considered safe.
- #5 PP(Polypropylene), more rigid than LDPE and is used to make yogurt cups. It happens on being microwaved but can be safely washed in the dishwasher.
- #6 PS(Polystyrene(puffy strain under Styrofoam)) disposable cups & containers. Aggressive chemical styrene causes hormonal imbalances and cancer.
- #7 PC – Other. This category includes almost any plastic polymer that doesn’t fall into categories 1-6
Click here for more info about Plastic Codes
Innovations in Plastic Food Packaging
New Developments in Plastic Packaging Technology
Recent advancements in plastic food packaging have focused on improving the shelf life and safety of packaged foods. One technology that has gained traction is vacuum skin packaging, which involves sealing food between a top film and a bottom tray using a vacuum-sealing machine. This technology reduces oxygen exposure, extending the shelf life of packaged foods.
Another notable development in plastic packaging is modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), which replaces the air inside a package with a gas mixture designed to keep the food fresh for longer periods.
Biodegradable and Compostable Plastic Food Packaging
In response to concerns around plastic waste and its impact on the environment, there has been an increased focus on developing biodegradable and compostable plastic food packaging. These types of plastics are made from biopolymers derived from renewable sources such as corn starch or sugarcane.
One example of this type of packaging is PLA (polylactic acid) which is commonly used in single-use cups or containers, as well as cutlery. These products will decompose after just six months when disposed of correctly by industrial composting.
Future Trends in Plastic Food Packaging
- Nanotechnology: one potential application involves using nanoparticles to create antimicrobial surfaces for packages, making them less susceptible to contamination during shipping.
- “Smart” Packaging: incorporating sensors into package designs that can detect changes in temperature or humidity levels can help ensure product quality and freshness throughout transportation and storage.
- Circular Economy Models: new models are being developed where businesses take more responsibility for their products once they’ve reached their lifespan, with packaging being collected and recycled to create new products regularly.
Overall, it is clear that plastic food packaging is continuing to evolve rapidly in response to environmental concerns and consumer demand for safer, more efficient packaging alternatives. Innovations affecting shelf life and waste management are thus at the forefront of developments within this industry.
Overall plastic food packaging plays an important role in our lives providing convenience while helping preserve freshness but its environmental footprint should not be ignored. We must consider ways through continuous innovation to minimize such footprints while maximizing sustainability.
Is all plastic bad for the environment?
Not necessarily – some innovative materials have emerged over time that claim to be eco-friendly
What is biodegradable plant-based plastics?
These types of plastics are made entirely from plants instead of petroleum.
Can we recycle all types of plastic food packaging?
Unfortunately not always – recycling rules vary widely depending on recycling facility and country so always check local policies before disposing off anything related hazardous garbage etc…