Food packaging waste is a growing problem across the world.
It accounts for over 23% of the materials that end up in U.S. landfills, according to the EPA.
Every day, billions of people worldwide buy and discard food packaging and containers that pollute the environment, affecting our planet on a large scale and causing health risks (the chemicals that leach from plastic containers and other food packaging are seriously bad news).
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce this kind of waste and create an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
1. Prepare a list
Prepare a list of all the items you will need to buy when grocery shopping. This list can help reduce impulse purchases, which often come in unnecessary packaging. Also, consider preparing your menus ahead of time for meals throughout the week or even just for dinner that day. This way, you are less likely to buy additional items with unnecessary wrappings.
Knowing what ingredients and staples you need before heading to the store allow for more mindful purchasing decisions that can reduce waste from single-use packaging. Speaking of ingredients, you may want to minimize or even skip canned beans.
2. Cut down or eliminate canned food
Dry beans need cleaning and packaging, and they are good to go.
On the other hand, we have canned beans. They can be more convenient when it comes to prepping them, but the process of rehydrating, blanching, and packing them is much more energy and resource intensive. In addition to requiring water and other ingredients, canned beans also have multiple layers of packaging—think tin container and paper wrap.
As a result, dry beans are generally more sustainable than canned beans, particularly when you buy them in bulk and pack them in your own reusable bag or jar, helping to cut down packaging waste.
The same is true for a lot of other canned foods, so do yourself a favor and minimize them to cut your food packaging waste.
3. Look for sustainable packaging methods and materials
Innovative solutions in the sustainability space have come with packaging options that consider the environment. For instance, a service like Grove Collaborative uses sustainable kitchen and household goods packaging that is reusable, as well as plastic and carbon neutral.
Also, look for sustainable packaging materials when looking to cut packaging waste.
Unlike traditional packing products, which can remain in the environment for hundreds of years (for example, conventional foam packing products and plastics), biodegradable packaging is much better for the planet. You can compost it, so it doesn’t end up as waste.
4. Shop in bulk and avoid single-use packaging
Try to purchase dry goods such as your beans, nuts, pasta, rice, and seeds in bulk. Bulk sections often offer reusable containers that you can fill with whatever amount you need instead of buying pre-packaged or jarred goods, thus helping to reduce waste from single-use packages.
You can also take your own reusable containers and bags to the store. These often come in the form of fabric bags, jars, and tins, which can replace single-use plastic bags and boxes.
Want to avoid even more packaging? You can:
- make your own butters in store, making use of reusable containers instead of single-use plastic ones.
- buy your fruit and vegetables loose instead of in individual plastic packaging—those two bananas or apples in their own plastic packaging are just not a good idea. Bring your own bags instead. Local farmers’ markets are great for getting your fruit and veg; most of the produce here is sold loose, helping to cut down on the packaging.
5. Look for alternative products with less packaging
When shopping for groceries, look for alternative items with less packaging. For example, rather than buy items like bread, pastries, and fruit already swaddled in single-use plastic, go for the items sans plastic and use your reusable bag instead.
6. Reuse your plastic bags
Hate plastic as much as you want, but we can’t deny that it’s still a big part of our lives.
5 trillion plastic bags—yes, trillion—are made each year. Unfortunately, a lot of this plastic ends up in landfills and in our water bodies. Currently, there are up to 199 million tons of plastic in our oceans, according to the World Economic Forum.
In the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, why not reuse any plastic bags that end up in your possession. For example, you can save them for your grocery shopping to avoid getting more plastic at the store.
You can also use reuse plastic bags to line trash cans, pack items when travelling, store small items like paint brushes, protect packages, make a plastic basket, collect garden scraps, collect dirty diapers, line litter boxes….The possibilities are endless.
7. Store food correctly
By storing food correctly, you can reduce the amount of food packaging waste generated. The general idea is to avoid single use plastic packaging as well as food waste.
Why food waste?
In addition to the obvious reason for avoiding food waste—it’s bad—avoiding food waste means you also avoid buying food unnecessarily. Unnecessary food purchases that stem from you having to replace spoiled food mean more food packaging, which will likely end up as waste. All this extra packaging can be easily avoided if you store your food properly.
With this in mind, here are some valuable tips for proper food storage:
- Keep your refrigerator and pantry neat. This will help you quickly find what items you have and reduce the need to repurchase things because they were lost under a pile of other products.
- Label all containers in the kitchen with their contents, dates, and instructions on how they should be used or stored. This will make it easier for everyone in your household to know where everything is and when it needs to be eaten or thrown away, thus minimizing those food repurchases we highlighted above.
- Use airtight containers to store food items. This will keep them fresher for longer and also reduce the amount of plastic packaging you need.
- Utilize your freezer as much as possible, especially when it comes to leftovers and pre-made meals. Freezing foods preserves their shelf life, so you won’t have to worry about throwing away spoiled food—again, this will help you avoid those food repurchases.
- Make sure that all products in the kitchen are properly sealed when not in use. This will prevent moisture or bacteria from getting into them, which can make them go bad faster and result in food waste.
8. Make your own lunch
Bringing your lunch to work or school instead of eating out is an easy way to reduce your food packaging waste. You can bring your lunch in reusable containers and avoid the plastic-wrapped sandwiches or other packaged items available for purchase.
Not only will you save money by not buying a meal every day, but you’ll also be doing something positive for the environment by cutting down on plastic use. You could make your lunch fun by trying out new recipes and packing creative lunches.
9. Forgo food delivery utensils
If you do end up buying a meal and having it delivered at home or anywhere else where you have access to utensils, forgo the utensils. Billions of these end up being thrown away each year, complete with their packaging.
By simply choosing not to include utensils when you order food (a lot of food delivery apps offer this option) you can avoid a lot of food packaging waste. The food delivery app doesn’t offer the option to exclude utensils? Use the comment section to leave them a note not to include the utensils.
10. Avoid individually wrapped snacks whenever possible
We’ve already covered avoiding single use packaging, but snacks deserve their own spot. After all, this is a market worth upwards of $535 billion.
Individually wrapped snacks such as chips and cookies may seem convenient, but they also add up quickly, generating unnecessary food packaging waste. Instead, reach for snacks that don’t require packaging’s, such as fresh fruit or vegetables. Or, if you do need a packaged snack, try to look for items in paper bags or boxes that can be recycled or composted instead of single-use plastic wrap that will likely end up in landfills.
Following these nine tips can help reduce the amount of food packaging waste and help you create a more sustainable lifestyle. But before we wrap up this article, let’s have a quick look at the importance of reducing food packaging waste.
Why is it important to reduce food packaging waste?
Food packaging waste is not only an eyesore, but it can also damage the environment and pose health hazards to animals and humans. For example, a lot of landfill waste is made up of plastic food packaging materials like wrappers, containers, cups, trays, lids, bags and straws that take up to 1,000 years to break down.
Furthermore, packaging waste causes pollution. A lot of it ends up on water bodies and waterways where it leaches into water, harms aquatic wildlife and birds, and in some cases, causes navigation hazards that negatively impact the fishing, tourism, and shipping industries.
So, avoiding food packaging waste is one of the biggest ways to help protect our planet.
But there’s more. Reducing the number of single-use food packaging we consume daily also reduces the resources needed to produce them. This helps to reduce carbon emissions, conserve energy, and minimize the environmental impact of production.
Put simply, reducing food packaging waste is essential for conserving resources, protecting the environment, and keeping both ourselves and our planet healthy.
Reducing food packaging waste for a more sustainable lifestyle
The effects of food packaging waste on the environment and our wellbeing are becoming increasingly apparent. By following the 10 simple steps highlighted in this article, you can play your part in reducing food packaging waste and creating a more sustainable lifestyle.
It’s important to remember that even small changes can significantly reduce food packaging waste. By being mindful of how much packaging you use daily and making simple swaps, you can help to protect our planet and keep it healthy for future generations.
P.S. There’s no denying that reducing food packaging waste is one of the best ways to live a more sustainable life, but if you want to learn more about this lifestyle, here’s the Fettle Hub guide to sustainable living, complete with some actionable tips to help you make a positive change from day one.