adventures in learning to be green & finding a green career

Packaging, it’s everywhere August 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — coreyfranks @ 8:08 pm
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No matter where you look everything seems to be wrapped, boxed or covered in external packaging. The majority of the public’s trash seems to originate in the kitchen. Every day wastes are thrown away from breakfast through late night snacking. A lot of the foods we purchase come in decorative plastics and in some cases the plastic is then covered by a paper based box.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2010, Americans generated 250 million tones of trash. I wonder how much of that is generated in the kitchen?

For food to exchange hands from manufacturer to retailer to customer, it needs a protective barrier to preserve the integrity of the food. But that seems like such a waste. A lot of this packaging is for single use enjoyment and then it is tossed in to the trashcan without a second thought. Add up all the morning coffee cups, microwave lunches and on a rare occasion a sit down dinner and they all share something in common. At the end of all three meals, waste was generated and thrown in the trash.

There is a lot of talk about reduce, reuse and recycle, but I don’t hear a lot about reducing the amount of packaging that gets tossed in the trash. Sure some cereal boxes and milk containers are recyclable, but a lot of packaging is being thrown away either due to consumer ignorance or if the packaging is contaminated. Recyclers can only take materials with very minimal amounts of food due to the food “tainting” the load and the entire pick up is sent to a landfill.

I am in strong favor of recycling, but even that business has its shady players that don’t have a clean record of recycling all their materials. When I have something I can’t re-purpose or reuse, I will recycle it. However, I want to try to reduce the amount of packaging that has to be produced in the first place and since a lot of waste is generated in the kitchen, I am looking at the food I purchase as the solution.

Enter in the bulk foods aisle at Whole Foods. I have passed through these aisles before to get to the packaged goods, but today I decided to take a leap, save some money and packaging. It should be mentioned that even in the bulk foods aisle plastic bags are waiting to be consumed and thrown away as you transport the bulk items home. This is not eliminating the problem of packaging and it makes me laugh that bulk items are thrown into one time use plastic bags. For those that don’t know, plastic bags are made from fossil fuels, never biodegrade, can contaminate soil and water in landfills and leads to the deaths of a lot of marine life.

Saving the world one plastic bag at a time has been communicated over and over again, but they still reside in grocery stores. Some no longer have them at the check out stand, but they are still in full force in the produce and bulk foods sections. Why we think one is worse than the other, I have no idea.

Step 1: Reusable shopping bags have become the new hot item so now it is time to not only use them at the check out stand, but while you are shopping. You don’t need to use a plastic bag for each item of produce you purchase. Instead, while you are picking out your produce, simply put them in your bags till you get to the checker. That way you don’t have to expose them to all the germs you want that little plastic bag to protect your food from.

Step 2: A lot of the prepackaged food you purchase is sold in the bulk aisles as well and some times at a discount! Every thing from cereals, candy and snack bars to beans, dried fruits, flours and grains are available without packaging. I know you are thinking that bringing in containers for each of these bulk items is cumbersome and not going to happen. Okay, well the next best thing is you can purchase reusable bags that double as your produce packaging (if you really don’t want your produce to touch one another in your big reusable bag). I picked up a few small reusable bags from Whole Foods which were plastic bottles in their former lives. There are plenty of sites online to purchase small bags from. Reuseit, Eco Bags and Amazon have plenty of options and sizes. If you decide to bring a container from home, simply go to the cashier, prior to bagging, so they can weigh your empty container. This way you will only pay for the food and not the weight of your container.

Once your eyes are open to see the wastes you throw away every day, you will see that a lot of the packaging that is already in your kitchen can be reused to hold your newly purchased bulk foods. Start to see your oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, coffee and sauce containers not as something to throw away or recycle, but to re-purpose! You will notice that by minimizing your packaging, you are greatly minimizing the trash you are sending to a landfill and that is something to be proud about and to help others achieve.