eco-friendly bag

Food Packaging That is NOT Eco Friendly

Since the term “eco friendly” is open ended, let’s consider eco friendly to be any packaging material that is biodegradable (that is, decomposes when left in the environment). You might be thinking that most food packaging is eco-friendly nowadays, considering most harmful packaging materials have been banned. There’s actually still a surprisingly high amount of brands that don’t buy sustainable products, so it’s important to continue to be aware of which materials aren’t considered eco friendly.


Packaging Materials Deemed “Environmentally Harmful”

In 2015, environmentally harmful packaging comprised 42% of overall global waste production, and 55% of all harmful plastics ended up in landfills. That figure doesn’t even consider the amount that ends up in our oceans and seas, negatively interacting and harming our sea life. While there are hundreds of materials that do not play well with the environment, we will explore a few common ones.

Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

What it is: Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is a common synthetic polymer engineered for a variety of reasons. It is made, in a lab, to be more lightweight than its HDPE (high density polyethylene) counterpart while still sharing the same similarities of being durable and hardy in most situations.

Uses: In the food industry, LDPE is engineered for take out containers, cups, lids, and caps. It is also used in plastic bags, the same ones given to carry take out food and at grocery stores to carry your groceries. It’s also used to package and store makeup.

Environmental Impact: LDPE has many problems with decomposition. For its use in plastic bags alone, it can take up to 20 years to decompose. Its lack of biodegradability has led it to be banned in the state of New York for plastic bags. And that’s just for its use in plastic bags. LDPE in most plastic products can take up to 1000 years to decompose.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

What it is: PET is a plastic part of the polyester family, infamous for its use as water bottles. You know a package is made out of PET if it feels like the plastic on a water bottle--lightweight, durable, and clear. The PET we know today was developed and patented in the early 70s. It quickly replaced glass bottles due to its similar composition--plastic as hard as glass--but not as fragile. It does not contain BPA or phthalates--known toxins that have been used in products and packaging.

Uses: PET is still used to package sodas and even water bottles, but at a much reduced volume. PET is also used as a clear clamshell to transport salads, hot meals, fruit, and even hardware. Certain variants of PET have been engineered to be microwavable, but in our opinion bagasse containers seem like the safer option.

Environmental Impact: Not only does PET emit hundreds times more toxic emissions than eco friendly alternatives like bagasse, PET takes hundreds of years to decompose. 


Styrofoam (Expanded Polystyrene)

What it is: Styrofoam is the trademarked name for expanded polystyrene. Initially intended for construction, Styrofoam found its way into the food industry after being discovered as an excellent insulator to food. Polystyrene beads are blown up by gases to create an expanded version of polystyrene, and then heated into a liquid to be molded. After it has been molded, it is then cooled to room temperature and sent out to be bought.

Uses: Styrofoam has many different uses. It is commonly found as take out containers, cups, lids, and even coolers. It is continued to be used in construction for its excellent insulation qualities. 

Environmental Impact: The environmental impacts of Styrofoam isn’t just scary to mother earth--but it’s scary to us, as well. Not only does Styrofoam take roughly 500 years to decompose, and has been expanded to be 40-80x its original size, but it also leaks when heated. That’s right. If you decide to order take out tonight, be wary if your soup comes in a Styrofoam container. When heated in a microwave, Styrofoam can leak harmful plastic toxins into your food. 

Another scary statistic: In 1986, the EPA did a study measuring how much traces of Polystrene could be found in a random sample. The results were astonishing--100% of the sample showed traces of Polystrene toxins in their blood. 

What to Look For

How do you know if your take out container has any of these plastics? There is a way to check to see what your container’s resin is. The best way to do it is by identifying the codes which are usually at the bottom of the container. There should be an identification code that corresponds to the type of plastic resin the manufacturer used. Definitely be safe if you’re about to warm up food in a container you aren’t sure what it's made of. 


As a proud supplier of eco friendly disposables and kitchenware, we hope we’ve helped you become more familiar with a bit of the environmental perils behind these common packaging materials. If you’re a consumer looking to buy disposables for your next party, we hope you consider SmartPack USA for your eco friendly alternatives.