What’s the big deal with food packaging? Well, if you have ever opened your refrigerator to grab some restaurant leftovers, a snack, or drink, plastic is the main barrier between you and a delicious meal or refreshment.
Packaging is key when it comes to creating and selling a product. Aside from being defined as the visual branding of a product, packaging ensures the safety and durability of a product. And by looking at packaging, consumers can get important information about the product such as its nutritional value, how to use it, ingredients, and so on.
There's two main objectives package design must accomplish:
Now, there’s all sorts of questions surrounding plastic. Is it sustainable? Why is it so widely used? And when options range from glass and paper to plastics, why do plastics play such a pivotal role in food and beverage packaging?
We are rightly questioning our overindulgence in plastics, but it’s easy to forget the reasons plastics came to be such an important part of our lives in the first place, and this is what we want to address in this blog post.
Plastic can be safe, durable, versatile in application and easy to turn into any shape. But above all, it’s cheap. This is mostly why plastic has dominated packaging across industries over the last half century.
The durability of plastic is a double edged sword. It protects food, but right after it’s used it can take up to 600 years to decompose, which is a concern for the environment.
As a result of plastic’s widespread usage (and buildup) since its invention in the 1920s, people all over the world have been trying to find an alternative to reduce the amount of waste ending up in our landfills and oceans.
Bioplastics rely on a blend of degradable and non-biodegradable components. They’re growing more common in usage, but few of them seem to meet the functionality requirements for storing food products. As a result they’re helpful for garbage bags or cutlery.
There also appears to be mixed opinion about their biodegradability. In the process of adding chemicals to make the packaging more durable, we’re left with a product that can also take a long time to degrade. On top of that, if bioplastics are mixed with ordinary plastics during disposal, it can hinder the recycling of plastics such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate, the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family.)
The most accessible bioplastic appears to be polylactic acid. However, PLA becomes compromised if it is filled with something hot. During the manufacturing process, products are heated to high temperatures and then filled into packaging. This makes it hard to use PLA on a product line wherein the end-product may be too hot for the bioplastic to handle.
Moreover, the technology used for producing and processing bioplastic is relatively experimental. It requires very specific processing to be recycled. This means that few places across the globe produce bioplastic and even fewer places process them after use.
To have a limited impact on the environment, importing bioplastic packaging would increase the price of the product, and exporting the waste is an expenditure that few companies can afford. As a result, unless the infrastructure for processing exists locally, bioplastics might end up decomposing in a landfill.
So even though they’re definitely a step in the right direction, biodegradable plastics aren’t convincing enough. They’re more expensive, there’s lots of transportation involved, they require specialized processing to recycle (to avoid ending up in landfills), and they may only be a little more biodegradable than plastic.
At One Good, sustainability is a principle that guides our mission. Our highest priorities include making high quality products that are safe, fresh, easy to access, and as affordable as possible so that anyone can adopt a plant-based lifestyle.
This puts us in a tricky situation regarding packaging. Plastics, or plastic-based packaging needs to go, but the infrastructure to make this transition is not yet available or sustainable from a business perspective. Due to this, any attempt to change our packaging will drastically change our impact and reach.
Just like you, we’re waiting for food-packaging and technology to change. Until then, we are committed to ensuring our environmental footprint is as small as possible while ensuring that consumer experience is as high as possible.
Both dairy and non-dairy products come in plastic packaging for the reasons mentioned above. So it makes sense to look into the inherent sustainability of the products inside - since both use plastics, it becomes an irrelevant cost while evaluating your choices. Principles of harm reduction suggest then to consume products that use fewer resources which are always plant-based.
And the day we can use better packaging, we will! You can be rest assured that the best choice you can make for the environment right now are plant-based products.
Leave your thoughts or questions below!