Manufacturers are constantly looking for new, more efficient ways to deliver food to hungry consumers. But unfortunately, technologies that promise to bring you your grub quicker aren't always so easy on the environment.
Here are some common packaging options ranked by eco-friendliness—starting with the worst offenders and working up to greener options. Every purchase counts, so by putting your dollar toward packaging that's easier on the environment, you're acting as a change-maker and influencing companies and manufacturers to do better.
Last place: Styrofoam cups
The environmental implications of Styrofoam cups, which carry everything from bodega coffee to ramen noodles, are significant. Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups each year and counting, but few recycling facilities accept the plastics they're made of—#6 plastics. Furthermore, the main building block of Styrofoam is Styrene, which can leach out and contaminate the environment with toxins as it deteriorates. It takes upward of 500 years for this Styrene to fully decompose in the landfill. Yikes!
The need to nosh between meals can arrive at any time, and snack bags are a convenient item you can easily throw in a lunchbox or tote bag. However, the same multilayered material makeup that keeps chips fresh and crisp is what prevents their packaging from being recycled. Though snack bags reduce waste by being lighter and less voluminous, they're destined for the landfill and therefore contribute to the world's greenhouse gas problem. Thankfully, NY-based food company Hain Celestial is working to combat this issue by making its snack bags 100 percent recyclable.
Plastic water and beverage bottles are recyclable through municipal collection, yet many of the 60 million bottles Americans go through a day are ultimately tossed in the trash. Once in a landfill, they take about 450 to 1,000 years to biodegrade and often end up in the ocean. Try refillable metal, glass, or BPA-free plastic bottles to stay hydrated and reduce waste through reuse.
Glass is one of the most eco-friendly forms of packaging. Made from all-natural raw materials, 80 percent of all recycled glass can be reclaimed since recycling doesn't compromise its quality or structure. No toxins are produced when glass is recycled, and glass doesn't leach chemicals into landfill when it's tossed in the trash either.
Glass packaging is the only widely used food packaging that's been granted the FDA status of "GRAS" or "generally recognized as safe." Nonporous and impermeable, glass doesn't let any chemicals into your food or beverages that shouldn't be there.
First place: Your own packaging (or use none at all)
Buying items packaged in glass is great, but making use of reusable glass storage containers is even better. You can forgo packaging altogether by using these for your bulk grocery products like coffee, grains, dried beans, and pastas. Glass jars also give you control over exactly how much food you buy, cutting down on food waste.
You can use reusable storage in other parts of the supermarket too. Ever stop to think about why exactly it is that we always place produce in plastic bags? Is it for organization? Cleanliness?
Bringing your own reusable shopping bags (over at TerraCycle, we love canvas ones because they're durable and washable) allows you to enjoy your fruits, veggies, and other produce in all their naked glory. So shop at local farmers markets when you can, where the BYOB (bring your own bag) model is the norm.