Last Updated on January 28, 2023 by Tabraiz
With the current state of the environment, it’s more important than ever to be conscious of the things we use and how they affect the planet. One area that often gets overlooked is food packaging. It’s easy to assume that since the paper is a natural material, it must be biodegradable and, therefore, eco-friendly. However, turning trees into paper is quite harmful to the environment.
In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the environmental impacts of paper food packaging and offer tips on reducing your environmental impact when using it.
The environmental impact of paper food packaging
Material paper is made from wood; in the United States, over 50% of the wood is used for production purposes. Turning wood into paper involves several steps, most of which involve high energy and emissions. Since forests cannot regenerate as quickly as they are being depleted, the lumber industry has had to rely on timber plantations (tree farms) to supply their needs. These plantations are established using young trees that take decades to mature into actual trees.
The ecological impacts of the manufacturing process are only the beginning of the impact paper has on the environment. Since paper protects against spills and contamination, it’s a common material used for packaging food. Over half of all packaged goods include paper packaging, increasing the likelihood that it will end up in a landfill (since there is currently no way to compost or recycle paper food packaging). The usage and disposal of these materials contribute to deforestation and biodiversity loss.
Converting wood into paper is highly industrialized and involves using several chemicals as solvents (toluene, formaldehyde, benzene, and sulfur dioxide are common). The use of chemicals contributes to massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and health problems associated with air pollution (thousands of deaths per year in the United States alone).
Tips on how to reduce your environmental impact when using paper food packaging
If you’re already using paper food packaging, there’s no need to panic. Sustainable paper food packaging is easy to dispose of. Here are the things you can do with your paper containers, bowls, paper bags, and other paper packaging materials.
The easiest way to reduce your impact with paper food packaging is to reuse it. If you can safely reuse your food packaging multiple times, there is a significant cost-saving benefit. For example, brown kraft paper bowls with lids, you can you these as plant pots or pen holders. There are other things you can do to reuse those paper shopping bags, you just need to be more creative.
Unfortunately, paper food packaging does not get composted along with the rest of your garbage. The good news is that it eventually gets broken down in landfills, but much more slowly due to its size and density. To help this process, you can add used paper food packaging into your compost bin.
The wood used to make paper comes primarily from renewable sources such as forests and wood chips. Sourced sustainably, the wood contributes to the maintenance and expansion of forests.
Manufacturers can use Smart Wood Certification and Carbon Credits (buy or sell) to ensure that your wood comes from a sustainably managed forest. The process of manufacturing paper also releases greenhouse gases, which the use of responsibly managed wood will reduce. The released carbon credits are also available for sale, with the intention of offsetting those emitted during the paper-making process.
Buy Reusable Food Wraps and Carry-On Bags
Reusable food wraps and paper bags are another great way to reduce your impact with paper food packaging. Many of these items are made from plastic, and with thermal paper but sustainable alternatives are made from materials like or cotton. Plastic food wraps and special shopping paper bags may break down in compost bins, but it will take much longer than the paper versions.
Change Your Spoon/Forks Combo
One easy way to reduce your use of paper food packaging is by combining your eating utensils with your takeaway food. You can do it by bundling chopsticks, spoons, and forks with your meal in a piece of paper wrap. Alternatively, when eating out, you could bring your reusable spoons, forks, and chopsticks with you.
This has a few advantages:
- It reduces the amount of paper or plastic food packaging used.
- It reduces exposure to possibly toxic chemicals released by plastic utensils.
- It helps improve the fitness of the landfill as compostable materials.
Using paper food packaging has greatly improved the quality of stored foods and drinks. It protects food from bacteria and insects, enhancing the appearance of products. The use of paper in food packaging has been widely adopted because it is cheap, versatile, and easily composted. You should carefully separate recyclable plastics from general household waste.
The environmental impact of plastic and paper food packaging is often discussed, and rightly so. Significant efforts are being made to improve the sustainability of these materials to meet the growing demand for food items in packaged form. If you are an eater or involved in producing food items in packaged form, then take a moment to consider the impact your efforts are having on the environment. You could potentially make greater improvements by making smarter material choices.