Zero Waste: Butcher Paper Versus Plastic
Here at Copiana, we strive to be a truly sustainable company at every stage of our process, down to how we wrap our produce. When choosing our packaging, we wanted to avoid plastic wrap or hard plastic clam shells, since the large majority of "recyclable" plastic doesn't get recycled. So what are our environmentally friendly packaging options? Should we opt for recyclable or compostable wrappings? What's the difference? And what actions can you take to make your food consumption more sustainable? Let's break down how various packing materials get broken down.
Let's start with the status quo. A large majority of grocery store packaging is plastic of some kind. From produce bags to milk jugs to peanut butter jars, plastic's affordability and durability has made it a popular choice for food storage. But it's a little too durable. And the idea of using recycled plastic in place of virgin plastic is, at least currently, not feasible. Recycling downgrades plastic, meaning that plastic that was used for food storage can't be recycled into new food storage. It doesn't mitigate the need for new plastic. On top of that, making new plastic is substantially cheaper than the plastic recycling process.
Most of the plastic we attempt to recycle never gets repurposed anyway. According to the Plastic Soup Foundation, about 9% of plastic worldwide gets recycled. Many countries ship plastic waste to Asian countries to be recycled and the volume arriving is overwhelming. China has closed its borders to foreign plastic waste, and other countries are beginning to implement restrictions as well. Plastic as a reusable or recyclable material is not our best bet. Avoid plastic packaging when you can and try to repurpose what you do have as storage containers, lunchboxes, or animal waste baggies.
Styrofoam: the take-out and gas station king. As an insulating variety of petroleum-based plastic, Styrofoam is in no way biodegradable. It can be destroyed if it's burned, which releases toxic chemicals into the air. It contaminates landfills overtime when exposed to sunlight, releasing carbon pollutants that damage the ozone layer. Most recycling programs will not accept Styrofoam, though the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials in Atlanta (CHaRM) will take washed Styrofoam.
Try to minimize your use of Styrofoam. Existing Styrofoam packaging can be repurposed for household uses including pool trays, shipping pellets, and pedicure toe separators. Packing peanuts can usually be reused by your local shipping store.
Glass is one of the easiest materials to reuse or recycle. Glass jars and bottles can be reused for years at home, and the glass recycling process is much easier and less toxic than plastic recycling. Glass doesn't degrade when recycled, meaning it's perfectly feasible to use recycled glass for food storage. Making new glass requires more energy than the glass recycling process, so it's actually more cost-effective to recycle glass materials.
The only downside to glass recycling is that many countries have not developed adequate facilities to recycle their glass. Shipping used glass to other countries for processing is costly and contributes to pollution, so give your glass as long a life as you can before putting it in the recycling bin.
Paper is a naturally biodegradable material and, as such, has been heavily implemented in eco-friendly food packaging as a compostable alternative. At Copiana, we wrap our produce in unwaxed butcher paper that can be composted or recycled. Paper is another product that's relatively easy to recycle. The washing and recycling process does degrade paper fibers slightly, but recycled paper quality is continually improving. Paper can be reused as new writing paper more than five times, and after that the product is still usable as recycled paper packaging for egg cartons and produce.
This compostable packaging is seen as a huge win for environmentalists. But how do we responsibly dispose of compostable material? First of all: don't send compost to the recycling center. Composting and recycling are two very different processes. While most paper can be composted or recycled, other organic matter that would go in a compost pile, like food scraps, contaminate paper and render it unrecyclable. If you choose to compost, you can either do it at home or take your compost to a composting facility. Though some restaurants and grocers are implementing compostable packaging, many areas don't yet have industrial composting facilities to deal with this volume of packaging. If you are interested in composting, learn more about what is and isn't compostable and where your nearest facilities are in How to Compost Using Your Freezer.
Plastic packaging can largely be replaced by paper products and glass. But what about plastic wrap? In recent years several companies have come out with beeswax coated cloth that purports to solve all your plastic wrap needs while being reusable. The wax is tacky enough to stick to itself or the surface of a bowl and the wrap is washable (by hand in cold water) so you can wrap it over and over and over again. You can re-wax your wraps when they start to look a little old, though they will eventually wear out and need to be composted.
If you don't have access to a compost pile or a compost center, you can give your worn-out wraps a proper funeral by wrapping them around kindling and using them as a natural fire-starter.
Cloth as a food wrapping material is not anything new, and its coming back into popularity as one of the most easily reusable materials, although its storage capabilities are mostly short-term. Cloth is ideal for wrapping bread and transporting produce. If the slight transfer of beeswax flavor from beeswax wraps bothers you, try wrapping items (like cheeses) in a cloth and then storing in an air-tight glass container.
Cloth is extremely reusable. When a food-storage cloth or tote starts getting holes, it can be repurposed as a cleaning rag. Some recycling facilities (like CHaRM) accept textiles.
How to Go Plastic-Free
There's no denying it's difficult to go completely plastic-free. Reducing your plastic waste a little at a time is the best way to make a lasting lifestyle change. Think about the little habits you can change, the regular purchases you can sub out for earth-friendly alternatives.
An easy way to start is by getting your produce from a Copiana harvest. We use unwaxed butcher paper that is recyclable or compostable, and our produce is local, seasonal, and nutritionally optimized, thanks to our patented aeroponic technology. That means less waste, less pollution, and better produce. We strive to be a truly sustainable, earth-friendly company at every stage of our process. You can be a part of that.