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Environmentally Friendly Packaging for Food and Drink

written by: jciotta•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 7/26/2010

Learn about environmentally friendly packaging for food and drink. Find out how restaurants package green in order to save money and remain eco-friendly. We'll show you how to package green at home too.

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    Package Like a Green Restaurant

    Eco-friendly Packaging for Food and Drink Food and drink packaging can be both costly and a detriment to the environment. When packaging is thrown away, such as plastic rings on six packs of soda or styrofoam cups and plates, they end up in a landfill. It can stay there for hundreds of years before completely breaking down. That's why it is so important to take a hard line on packaging.

    One industry that has green packaging down pat is the restaurant industry. Some of these restaurants not only have the desire to be Eco-friendly, but also certain laws now dictate their packaging methods. So, we as amateurs, can takes some cues from restaurant owners.

    Firstly, as Greg McGuire notes in The Back Burner, a restaurant blog, you must understand the difference between environmentally friendly packaging materials before you decide what to buy. Packaging materials fit into three main categories: compostable, biodegradable and recyclable.

    The first category of compostable materials can be tricky. It is difficult to classify packaging materials as having the ability to compost completely. A regular compostable material breaks down in a six month time period. It break downs by using water, carbon dioxide and organic material in an ecosystem i.e. material that can decompose. The problem is that a composting material must be sent to a larger facility in order to decompose in six months. Otherwise, in a smaller facility, these materials will take a long time. One example of compostable packaging is compostable chip bags.

    The second category is biodegradable packaging materials. They decompose by bacteria or fungi. However, as McGuire notes, "the problem is, no standard exists for the amount of time a product takes to biodegrade. And no requirement exists for the addition of agents like bacteria to aid the degradation process." Thus, the biodegradable option is not a great one because it does not reduce toxic emissions into the air nor waste.

    The third category is recycling. Most packaging can be recycled in one way or another. It's a matter of teaching employees what and how to recycle. It also depends on your local government's recycling center. They may take certain recyclable items and not others.

    As McGuire recommends, compostable packaging materials do cost more, but they are the best option for remaining Eco-friendly. And in the long run, it may save you more money to buy compostable packaging due to a reduction in waste disposal.

    Now that we've heard from the expert, let's discuss how you can package green at home.
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    Packaging At Home

    Environmentally Friendly Packaging at Home To package food and drink at home, it is best to opt for compostable materials. Here is a list of compostable items you can use in your home: reports that carton packaging is the most Eco-friendly option. According to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, cartons cut emissions from carbon dioxide and fossil fuels by 60 percent when compared with other forms of packaging. So for home use, try to put as many food stuffs as possible in carton packaging. Bottles can also go in carton packaging. For example, beer usually comes in carton packaging as does soda.

    To package correctly, purchase the compostable or carton packaging materials online or in bulk to drive down costs. Open each package and fill with food and drinks. Make sure to fill completely. Otherwise, any waste of space means more packaging must be used and that is bad for the environment. Besides using the right packaging, you also want to use the least amount possible.

    In addition, if you have breakable items such as jars or glass bottles, try to purchase cartons with built-in dividers, such as in six pack cases of beer. If this is not possible, use reusable materials to package tightly. For example, an old towel can help fit everything snug and prevent breakage of fragile items. So can balled up newspaper, which you would dispose of in the recycle bin after using.

    Now that you know what is the best environmentally friendly packaging for food and drink, go out and purchase the best options possible. Then go home and use the aforementioned tips to package in the most Eco-friendly way possible.

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    "Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable and Recyclable." by Greg McGuire, The Back Burner, March 17, 2009 --

    "Carton packaging is the most eco-friendly claims study." by Mike Stones, May 25, 2009, --

    Photos by Simon Howden / --