To Pack Or Not To Pack. That’s The Question.

Eating. A basic need, a potential experience, a great testimony of cultural diversity, an art. And so many other ways to consider it.

One of them is chemistry. The way to gather and combine various elements through infinite possibilities. Chemistry is also at the heart of the packaging used to convey these ingredients and keep them safe until they are consumed, and which has been a field of discussion these recent years.

What are these matters about? I thought it would be worth writing few sentences about it, as a contribution to a global citizen awareness.

Environmental impact

The visible side of the iceberg, first. Who has not been struck by the quantity, the volume, the weight of these packages, when back from shopping; you first throw a part of the packing away, and not unfortunately always in the recycling bin? And then, when tidying up the kitchen, with so many pieces we struggle to identify what should be recycled and what should not? Or even to what extent we could now be invited to purchase pre-peeled fresh food (1)? Most of us, I guess.

All these stages are involving plastic films and other containers made of hydrocarbons, aluminium, costly to produce, hard or yet impossible to recycle, without ignoring that a part of them is thrown in nature, contributing to soil and oceans contamination.

Notwithstanding these initial live statements, let’s consider some figures. Packages “only” represent 4 to 5% of the total greenhouse gasses emitted through the whole production and delivery process (2), allowing these products to reach our plates (83% for production, 11% for transport). Considering that, in France, 55% of the waste is generated after purchase (3), it is obvious that a clever selection of goods while shopping, a good inventory management and proper preservation conditions are ways to reduce this wastage (2.5 billion tons of food are wasted each year over the world). It’s quite straight forward to realize how much packages can help in this process, a process that allows more leverage on GHG reduction than an intensive work on packages themselves.

In summary, it’s not about removing all packages, which are a simple way to improve our food management, but to use the right ones. As a consumer, let’s consider packages as a selection criteria, let’s pay attention to the recyclability, to the number of layers used on a simple product, its capacity of maintaining it fresh long enough. A contribution to our environment and an incentive for producers for a cleverer package conception and an improved customer awareness through a better display of recyclability and impacts.

Health impact

The other area of concern lies in the impact on human health of some of these packages, through direct or indirect contaminations. Bisphenol A and ten types of phthalates included respectively in polycarbonates and PVC are basic components embedded in many plastic parts we use in the everyday life and that have been targeted for their proven or potential impacts. Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor, can be found in cans, sealing boxes, plastic water pitchers…. It’s suspected of affecting reproduction, generating heart diseases and cancers at even tiny doses, although its effects are still under investigation (4). Some of the phthalates (DEHP, le DBP et le BBP) are now forbidden for sensitive food application in Europe (Grease), and limits have been sets for juvenile products (5).

As a consequence of the contribution of packages to a massive ocean contamination by micro and meso-plastics (6), fishes are frequently found with micro segments of POPs on markets, indirectly affecting the food chain.

Aluminium has also been pointed out, first as being environmentally unfriendly (emission of perfluorocarbons and SO2, involved in acid rains), and moreover for risks of food contamination, especially when heated or in contact with acid ingredients, such as lemon or white wine (7).

Then, as individuals, let’s select other solutions, such as greaseproof paper in replacement of aluminium, or glass containers to avoid plastic ones. Also pay attention to expiry dates on metal cans, as extended exposure to their materials sensibly accentuate risk of contamination.

And most of all, let’s remain informed regularly about these crucial matters, as everything moves fast, and only few can really been taken for granted. An example? Glass may also contain lead…. ☹(8).

Written by

Pascal Ordonneau

The links below, as references, among many others, may help you to make your mind!









Leave a Comment