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Environmental Issues Linked to Pre-Packaged Foods, Plus Eco-Friendly Alternatives

Food is necessary to sustain our lives. Nutritional value is vital to living a healthy one, and great taste makes it all worthwhile. But in a busy world, most people want what they eat to be extremely convenient.

Unless consumers buy fresh food right from the source, most of what they eat is packaged. Cartons, cans, and containers are ubiquitous on grocery store shelves. And food companies try to amp up that convenience factor any way they can.

Although we need food to survive, what food we consume might put us at odds with the survival of the planet. Here are two broad environmental issues revolving around pre-packaged foods and alternatives that may help consumers make better choices.

The Full Package May Not Be a Good Deal

People often look for something quick and easy to eat. In fact, sometimes, the only preparation necessary is opening the package. But all that convenience may be putting serious hurt on the environment.

Many consumers spend a lot of time reading nutritional labels. They’re looking for something with not too much saturated fat or sodium or too many calories. Some check to see if it’s gluten-free, vegan, or not processed in a plant where nuts are present. But few put it back on the shelf merely because of the way it’s packaged.

Packaging is complicated. Environmental hazards may stem from how the packaging is created, how it affects the food inside it, or how long it lasts in a landfill. Styrofoam is universally a poor choice. Many plastics might be made from recycled materials but are no longer recyclable once used again. And paper and aluminum packaging might be coated with harmful substances.

The environmentally conscious approach is to seek out the best of what pre-packaged foods can offer. Take Simply Good Jars, which packages fresh meals for people on the go, as an example of a safer alternative. A customer picks up a container, shakes it, opens the lid, and eats a healthy salad or other dish made with fresh ingredients. It’s convenient, quick, and delicious, but what about the plastic container and lid?

This company has earned status as a Certified B Corporation because the jars are curbside recyclable. And it gives consumers an incentive to recycle by donating a free meal to someone in the community when they do. The fresh ingredients are environmentally friendly. And the jar that keeps them that way is easily recyclable.

When wading through packaging options for convenient foods, consumers should look for the best alternative. Containers that can be recycled and kept out of the landfill are good options. As more and more consumers vote with their dollars by buying recyclable packaging, it will change the world. They’ll help push pre-packaged food producers in a more environmentally sustainable direction.

The More Processed the Food, the Harder the Hit

Food is pre-packaged for all sorts of reasons. Just because they’re pre-packaged doesn’t mean they all affect the environment with the same amount of negativity. But any food not consumed in its original state requires processing. How much processing, though, typically determines how much of a toll it takes on the environment.

Take milk, for example. There’s dairy milk as well as a variety of plant-based milks like almond, soy, pea, hemp, and rice. They’re all processed. Dairy milk is pasteurized, and plant-based milks require grinding, soaking, and the addition of other ingredients, such as sweeteners.

Consumers may assume that plant-based versions are better, yet they actually require more processing than dairy milk. A lot of water is used during processing and some plants, like soybeans, use significant amounts of fertilizer. In fact, soy milk specifically gets some low environmental marks.

Soy and other plant-based milks and foods are blamed for deforestation and reduction of biodiversity. That’s because land is cleared to plant crops. But before anyone runs back to the dairy case, it’s good to remember that dairy milk comes from livestock. Livestock consumes a lot of water, requires tons of feed, and causes massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Those wanting to buy pre-packaged foods with the least amount of negative environmental impact may need to do a little homework. Fewer chemical additives like dyes and preservatives are kinder to Mother Earth. Because some of them can have serious health implications, they’re also kinder to the people who avoid them.

Consumers reading labels should look for ones with short stories, not novels. That’s because when fewer ingredients go into the package, it is usually better for you, and it takes a lot less processing to get the raw components from origin to kitchen.

Good for Humans and the Environment

It would be difficult for people to avoid pre-packaged foods completely. But there’s value in choosing alternatives that may lessen the carbon footprint of food. Some of the considerations include production, processing, packaging, transportation, waste, and disposal.

There’s an environmental impact to every consumable. After all, even the backyard garden and the chickens in the coop need to be watered and tended. But the choices people make when they buy consciously can bring about change in the pre-packaged food industry.  Looking for pre-packaged foods with less processing, kinder packaging, and those produced closer to their store’s shelves will make a difference.