With the rising awareness of the environment and the impact items like traditional plastic have on waterways, soil and even wildlife, more people are looking for a change. But when it comes to how we package our food, is there a safer option for us and the environment?
Compostable packaging provides a great way for people to package and carry their food in an environmentally friendly and safe way. This is due to the natural materials that make up the compostable item and the eco-friendly way that it breaks down back into natural matter.
Is It Safe To Store Food In Compostable Bags?
With the value of compostable items being made more and more clear to the everyday consumer, many people are now asking about the use of compostable bags. It can be confusing to understand where and when you can use a compostable bag and when it may not be the right choice as an alternative.
Compostable bags are an amazing alternative to traditional plastics due to their ability to break down into natural matter and the natural components they are made out of. This makes them very environmentally friendly! But does it make them a good choice for storing food? The answer is: not really.
This is due to their lack of strength compared to traditional plastic bags and their ability to decompose into natural matter. However, in terms of food safety, they are non-toxic so are safe to carry food briefly.
When Would You Store Food In A Compostable Packaging?
With compostable bags being made from natural materials such as corn, potato and tapioca, this means they are not as capable of holding wet or heavy substances. This means that you could carry food for a short period in there but you would need to move the food to another, stronger storage container or bag soon after.
For example, a lettuce could be carried in a compostable plastic bag but then you would need to come home, remove the lettuce and dry the bag in order to reuse it again and keep it strong enough to carry other items.
You could also store food and garden waste in a compostable bag with the goal that the bag will also break down with the waste into compost. However, food such as meat, fish or dairy isn’t suitable for a home composter as animals can be attracted (such as mice or rats) to the composter. So it’s not ideal to pop these into a compostable packaging.
Are Compostable Food Containers Food Safe?
Moving away from compostable plastic bags, are food containers any different for the storing of food? In one word: yes. They are safe to carry food, however, they can compromise the composting process due to the leftover food or sauces in the container.
Unfortunately, many US compost facilities are refusing to accept compostable packaging, citing contamination to their other composting materials. The other issue is that many people don’t dispose of their compostable plastics correctly and mix them in with non-compostable items.
This also leads to contamination and renders the batch useless. There have also been concerns that sometimes the liners placed into these containers to avoid leakage may transform into acids inside large-scale composters.
This means that they can contaminate crops and end up in our food supply. For this reason, some farmers won’t accept compost made from compostable food containers. So in summary, while these containers may be safe for humans to eat from, they may not be great for the environment long term.
What Is Compostable?
Understanding what is able to be composted is key to deciding whether you do or don’t use compostable alternatives, as well as when you will use them. The act of composting is essentially a process that sees materials such as compostable plastic or organic material such as food scraps, placed into a composter.
This matter is then broken down through the presence of insects, worms, bacteria and fungi. Essentially, materials or items that can be composted are those made from renewable plastic with no traditional plastic components. They can also be broken down into a natural state in the right environment.
Compostable plastic contains organic materials such as tapioca starch, potato or corn starch, soy protein, cellulose (a component of paper) and lactic acid. This makes them perfect for breaking down or decomposing in a natural environment such as a composter (home or industrial) or worm farm.
Find out more about composting in this article.
Is Compostable Plastic Eco-Friendly?
There is a new buzz word that’s emerged over the past decade or so, being ‘eco-friendly’. Many people want to be eco-friendly or more environmentally conscious. But what is eco-friendly and is compostable plastic classed as just that?
Compostable packaging do typically fall under the umbrella of eco-friendly! This is due to their material makeup not harming the environment. Eco-friendly essentially means something that is either better for the environment or won’t harm it.
With compostable plastics being made from 100 per cent natural materials, being manufactured in an environmentally friendly way and able to break down into natural matter, they certainly are eco-friendly.
What Kind Of Eco-Friendly Containers Are Available In The Market?
Eco-friendly food containers are available on the market, and this is both in compostable packaging or reusable items made from glass, bamboo or metal to name a few. Many companies are recognising the market for sustainable food containers and coming up with their own solutions.
Some eco-friendly containers include:
– Mason jars
– Glass containers
– Bamboo containers
– Bento box made from sustainable materials
– Metal containers
– Reusable wax food wraps
– Paper food wraps
– Silicone food bags.
However, it’s important to understand how these are manufactured and how you will eventually dispose of them to make them 100 per cent eco-friendly. Using a product multiple times over years though does reduce your environmental footprint more than continuously using traditional plastic each meal.
In the same vein as food containers, you can also buy metal, bamboo or glass water bottles and coffee cups that are completely reusable and able to withstand hot or cold. This means that even your beverage choices can be eco-friendly!
Where Can I Buy These Eco-Friendly Containers?
Depending on which eco-friendly container you are looking for, many are easy to find! From the above list, you could go to any of these places and find at least several of these options:
– Grocery store – often has paper food wraps, metal and glass containers
– Department or homewares store – will have your bento boxes, bamboo containers, mason jars, glass containers and metal containers.
– Markets or online stores – where you’ll often find your reusable wax food wraps and silicone food bags.
– Most of the above AND coffee shops will often stock your reusable coffee cups and drink bottles.
There is no excuse to not make an eco-friendly choice when there are so many reusable food and drink containers on the market. They’re also not sold at crazy prices when you consider how often you will use them and how long they will last! Some coffee shops also give you a discount when you bring their own cup.
Is It Toxic To Use Traditional Plastic Food Containers?
When it comes down to it, traditional plastic food containers aren’t a great choice, however, they are typically not harmful for humans in their initial use. They are harmful for the environment though when disposed of and can be harmful if reheated too many times.
It’s important to understand that plastic used for food containers does have to pass certain standards in the country they are manufactured or sold in. Research has been showing that some plastics (some of which have been banned in certain countries) can leach toxic chemicals that lead to long-term health issues.
The typical traditional plastic food container you use are very low risk but it’s important to understand that these molecules from plastic packaging may possibly migrate into the food as the plastic breaks down. This is why it’s important to not use traditional plastic more than once.
For example, reheating and reusing your takeaway containers many times does increase your risk of contamination. Of course, plastic is toxic to the environment when disposed of, leading to landfill contribution which can also impact soil and wildlife as it breaks down and leaches chemicals.
What Types Of Plastic Food Containers Are The Most Toxic?
With a risk in all plastic food or drink containers, which are seen as the ‘worst’ or higher risks?
– Polycarbonate – often used for these purposes and as a resin used to line cans. This can release bisphenol A (BPA) which can lead to serious health problems. Many countries have banned or limited the use of anything containing BPA.
– PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – is extremely popular but contains dangerous chemical additives such as lead, cadmium and phthalates. These can be very toxic to children’s health. PVC is often made to make reusable bottles, cling wrap and seals for screw-cap jars.
Read more about the types of plastics here.
How Can I Avoid Toxic Plastics?
So how do you protect yourself and your family from toxic plastic containers or bottles? Understand what your alternatives are and consider metal, glass, compostable or bamboo type containers. Look for labels such as ‘BPA free’ on products.
Understanding what materials your containers and bottles are made from is key. When you’re looking at single-use items, make sure they are certified as bioplastics such as compostable or biodegradable. They will have a logo on them that you can see.
How Do I Choose Food Containers?
Knowing all of this information, how do you know which food container is best? Making the right choice for you and your family depends on several considerations?
– What are you using the item for?
– How long will you use the item?
– Do you need something long term?
– How will you dispose of the item?
– Can it be reused for years or upcycled and used again?
With these in mind, glass and plastics are the most common but not necessarily the BEST option in terms of the plastic components in some. You’ll need to understand leak-proof, hardiness, ability to be heated in a microwave or frozen in the freezer as well as air-tightness and staining.
Putting eco-friendly into the mix does make this more difficult for long-term options, because many lids will include seals made from plastic or the entire lid.
Which Packaging Is Best?
It can be said the best options for their usage and their environmental footprint are split into two lists: short term and long term.
– Compostable single-use containers and cups (provided you will compost them correctly)
– Paper food wraps
– Wax food wraps.
– Glass containers
– Bamboo containers
– Silicone food bags
– Metal containers
– Reusable food wraps.
Please consider how you will dispose of these items. Compostable packaging for example, is not able to break down in landfill and must be disposed of in a home or industrial compost or worm farm. With a worm farm, certain food scraps left in the box will not be ideal such as acidic or citrus foods.
We know you want to make eco-friendly and safe choices for yourself, your family and the environment. By coming to this blog, you’ve already taken the first step! Understanding your options is really key to making the best choice for you. Also, understanding how you will dispose of the product or how many uses you will get from it is also important.
Compostable packaging such as food and drink containers really do offer a good way for people to package and carry their food in an environmentally friendly and safe way. Knowing the natural make-up of compostable plastics and their ability to break down completely in the right environment back to nature makes them a safe and confident choice.
Next time you visit your grocery store, market or department store, check out the food and drink containers available that aren’t single-use traditional plastic or are reusable.