Summary: How is food and its packaging harming the environment?

Hello! This is a sum up of all the information I collected during my 3 rounds of research.  Question: How is food and its packaging harming the environment?

It’s important for people to be aware of food waste and the harm its causing to the environment. How food ends up being wasted, packaging used for most foods, better packaging alternatives, and how we can reduce less food waste are all important things people should know about. 

First and foremost, a cause of food getting wasted is the production and transport of the goods. Throughout the process of growing crops, the food that is grown gets wasted as it makes its way to the grocery store. While preparing the food at the farm, good fruits and vegetables get thrown away because they slightly miss the standard that grocery stores have. 30% of fruits and vegetables in North America don’t make it into the store to sell, since the store feels it may not look good enough for customers. This results in them throwing it away (2). Grocery stores may also buy too much food, and not have enough space to store it (3).

To grow and farm this food, we use up tons of our natural resources. 70% of water is used for agriculture. This is for all foods, not just produce. For example, if a glass of milk gets poured out, that results in thousands of liters of water wasted to keep the cow alive that supplied the milk. Land and soil also get harmed because it takes time for soil to regain nutrients that it lost while growing the produce (3).

After food gets thrown away, most of it goes to landfills (3). Here, the food will decompose without any oxygen and create methane. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas that is 3 times as bad as CO2 (4) (3). These two gases and chlorofluorocarbons are all heating up the atmosphere and being one of the reasons for global warming (3). Wasting food also contributes to affecting wildlife. Certain species will find landfill waste and eat it, overpopulating that species. This harms the rest of the animals that live around that one species, because it might be the predator or prey to that animal and depend on it. An example of this is the seagulls who are overpopulating in California’s Monterey Bay from eating landfill waste. They are now eating more steelhead trout then usual which could cause the fish to go extinct (5).

The materials used to package food is another dispute that is causing problems. Companies will sometimes use multiple chemicals in one material to add to how it functions. For example, there are 7 main chemicals used to make plastic (6). Plastic is the #1 material used for food packaging, but besides that, paper and cardboard get used pretty frequently as well. Used for liquids, dry foods, frozen foods etc., paper and cardboard is made using natural fibers of cellulose. Although, chemical additives will get added for functionality. These are things like biocides, felt cleaners, and defoamers (7).

Just like food waste, animals get harmed with food packaging too. Winds will sometimes blow packaging and garbage into animal’s habitats and they will mistake this for food (8). This is clogging their stomachs and arteries, as well as poisoning them from the chemicals that leak out of the materials (8).  

These problems can help be prevented if we try and reduce the amount food waste and packaging we produce. We should try to track what we buy and plan meals ahead of time to refrain from buying unnecessary food (9). It can be as easy as eating what you have at home before going to buy more food. You should know what you’re buying something for, before it even gets put in your cart (9).

There are many ways to preserve food that can also help you plan ahead. Things like freezing, canning, vacuuming etc. all helps food last longer. And knowing where to store your food is important too, so that you ensure you are getting the maximum time out of it (9) (10).  Something we should all look out for are the different meanings on packages. “Sell-By” refers to how long the store knows to keep it on the shelf for, and we should only buy this product if it’s not past this date. “Best if used” is the recommended date that promises the best flavor. And “Use by” is the last date before the food is no longer good to eat (11).

To help minimize food packaging, we should all try our best to avoid foods with heavy layers of plastic, and try not to use any plastic bags provided at stores (12). Despite the fact that most grocery stores still sell lots of packaged goods, companies are creating alternative packaging that is biodegradable and eco-friendly (13) (14). What makes these materials different from regular materials, is that they are made with NO chemicals and are creating ZERO waste. Instead, they contain wild-harvested plant fibers (bulrush), bamboo, bagasse, plant starch, wood fiber, and wood (13) (16). Some grocery stores are already resorting to using 30% recycled material packaging which is a good start (15).

If we start noticing the damage being created from food waste and its packaging, more can be done to prevent it. It’s not only a waste of resources, but it’s affecting the wildlife and land we need.



















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