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Could food packaging be more sustainable and better for the planet?

The way packaging is produced presents environmental issues, as do the quantities of packaging used and thrown away
Two brown and black disposable coffee cups
© University of Central Lancashire

A report on food packaging by FoodPrint (2020, p5) challenges consumers motivated by sustainability to think beyond the food that they eat.

In the following extract, you can see that the report states that if consumers are concerned about climate change, the environment and their personal health when shopping for groceries, the same issues are factors when it comes to food packaging.

The way packaging is produced presents environmental issues, as do the quantities of packaging used and thrown away. Additionally, there are dangerous materials in food packaging that may interfere with our health.

‘You’ve checked the milk carton for an organic certification label. You’ve scanned the nutrition label on a can of beans, searching for an acceptable salt level. You’ve spent time finding eggs from hens that were pasture raised. But have you noticed whether those eggs come in a cardboard carton or in a moulded plastic container? Do you know what the milk carton is made of? Are you paying attention to what lines the inside of that can of beans? Ironically, though many of us are spending more time and money to eat the healthiest and most sustainably produced foods that we can find and afford, we frequently overlook the packaging in which this food is found. Shouldn’t our food packaging be just as good for our health and the planet as the actual food?’

Plastics pollution

The report claims that the prevalence of plastics use follows from its convenience. Plastic is inexpensive and sturdy, and because it is durable, it never really disappears. Some of it is recycled, some of it incinerated, but most end up in landfill sites or as litter in the natural world.

Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world’s oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. It is estimated to contain at least 70,000 tonnes of plastic.

Single-use food packaging

Despite the massive problems associated with plastics pollution, the report claims that with some effort, consumers can return to the days before single-use food packaging became the standard.

The report points out that in the past, soft drinks, for instance, were sold in glass bottles. Consumers would bring the bottles back to the shop and the bottles would find their way back to the manufacturers, where bottles would be cleaned and refilled.

Consumers would also bring their own containers to the shop to buy what they needed in bulk. Whilst some of this practice remains on a small scale, the report calls for a culture change away from single-use and back to reuse.

The report is confident that whilst reusable packaging is more costly and less convenient, both manufacturers and consumers will be able to transition back to reusable materials.

In brief, the report calls for a rethink around food packaging and single-use foodservice items, prioritising human health and the environment over convenience.


FoodPrint (2020). The FoodPrint of food packaging. A FoodPrint report. Available at:

© University of Central Lancashire
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