What is most of the food in your fridge packaged in? It's most likely in plastic, which is notoriously bad for the environment. Some plastics used in food packaging are recyclable, but others, like the plastic used to wrap American cheese, are not.

These plastics are often terrible for the environment and can result in messes like the large plastic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. As individuals are becoming more and more eco-friendly and aware of the environment, there has been a call for more eco-friendly food packaging.

In the last year, the U.S.Department of Agriculture developed a new food packaging that is eco-friendly, biodegradable and made from an unlikely source: milk protein casein. Casein is biodegradable, keeps food fresh and is also edible. There are a few other varieties of edible food packaging but these are made of starch, which is porous, so food goes bad quickly. The USDA research team is still developing and testing this product and will likely be off the market for the next three years or so.

Packaging Types

There are a few different methods of eco-friendly packaging, so it is important to know all the different methods and what to look out for when grocery shopping.

The first method eco-friendly food packaging is lightweighting. Lightweighting is when a company uses less plastic to create packaging. This type of packaging is thinner than normal plastic packaging. Using less plastic eases the waste burden on landfills or the ocean. Lightweighting leads to lower transportation costs and less fuel use. These are good things, but often the thinner plastic is still not recyclable.

The next method of eco-friendly packaging is the use of recycled materials. Recycled plastic can be used to make things like water bottles. These post-consumer recycled materials can continue to be recycled and reused.

Using biodegradable plastics (bioplastics) is a major eco-friendly food packaging method. Biodegradable plastics are made from natural sources like wheat, potatoes or corn. These plastics break down quickly once they are in a landfill.

An example of eco-friendly food packaging. (Source: Studio H)An example of eco-friendly food packaging. (Source: Studio H)

Natural packaging is also another biodegradable option. The packaging can replace plastics, cardboard and other packaging materials. For example, coconut husks can be recycled into a high-strength material that has low water absorption, no chemicals or additives and composts easily.

Tips for Consumers

When looking out for plastic food packaging there are a few things to remember. Any packaging that is stained from food cannot be recycled. Food residue can contaminate the slurry in the recycling process. Packaging that has any kind of adhesives like glue and tape likewise cannot be recycled. Paper and plastic cups have these kinds of materials that make them un-recyclable, so watch out for that when purchasing eco-friendly products.

The food industry is a huge player when it comes to preserving the environment with eco-friendly or recyclable packaging. Food packaging continues to fill landfills around the world. It is all too often made up of plastics and materials that pollutes the environment and litters the oceans, killing aquatic animals. It is important to stay informed and try as much as you possibly can to help the environment as much as possible. A great way of doing this is buying food that comes in recyclable packaging. Consumers that are aware of eco-friendly packaging and regularly purchase it send companies the message that they want to help the environment.