Climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution – we’re facing huge environmental problems, and everyone needs to do their share to keep the planet habitable for future generations. The least you can do is drink your coffee from a reusable cup, right? Some would rather skip plastic packaging altogether. While the intention is good, here’s why it’s not always a good idea.
It’s a sunny Saturday, you’re at your local supermarket, shopping for groceries. You start at the produce section because you want to eat more healthily. As your eyes scan all the fresh, colorful fruit, veggies and berries, you come across chunks of pre-sliced pineapple, neatly packed in plastic containers. You wonder: isn’t the peel the best packaging for the yellow, juicy fruit?
And so, you take notice of all the different kinds of packaging wrapped around your groceries as you pile them in your basket and start to feel anxious. Is all this really necessary? Will it end up in the dumpster anyway?
Most of us don’t grow our own food. In fact, the food items we buy have gone through many hands before ending up in ours, carefully nurtured and watered by farmers and growers, travelling to markets, across continents and stored in boxes and containers, packed, and stacked for your use.
The point of packaging is to protect food on its journey to our homes and into our bodies. We only start to notice when this mission fails.
So, let’s tackle a few of the myths behind food packaging. Is it all a big waste?
Myth #1: Less packaging is always better
There’s a common misconception that if there’s packaging, then it’s for those that just think about convenience. But there’s a bunch of valid reasons to package food in a certain way.
First, there’s longevity. If everything was packaged loose in large containers, a lot more produce would be bruised. Bacteria would spread more easily, potentially spoiling the whole batch. Precious food would go to waste and food would cost more.
Second, there’s accessibility. The need to bring our own containers to the grocery store would mean having to plan our shopping very carefully. In other words, it would take a lot more time and effort. Imagine having to carry your containers around all day just to be able to pop in the grocery store on your way home! Moreover, you’d need to keep your containers super clean to prevent what the scientists like to call “cross-contamination”.
Myth #2: Porcelain beats paper
Besides the supermarket and your own kitchen, you deal with food at restaurants. Your gut feeling may be that serving meals on proper tableware, washing up and reusing it would save tons of valuable resources. Sure, fine china adds pizzazz to the experience, but eco-friendly it is not – contrary to what you might think.
Washing the plates at a restaurant takes a lot of water and energy. If the plates were recyclable, the water and energy could be used on something more important.
The thing is the scale of washing plates and cutlery is completely different when comparing homes to restaurants. For one, we don’t have to clean our plates at quite the same pace or at the same heat level as restaurants unless we are hosting a proper feast for our friends and family.
That’s something to think about next time you’re gulping down piping hot coffee from a recyclable cup. We feel you, worried caffeine lover – it’s tough when instincts lead you astray. All materials have their benefits in certain conditions. The wise and most sustainable thing to do is to choose the right packaging for the job. And just remember, it’s even better if you recycle that paper cup.