Food Packaging: The Implications of Food Packaging on Organics Recycling and Waste Diversion

As life continues to get busier, food convenience becomes more attractive to the millions of ‘on-the-go’ families across Canada. Whether its to get the kids off to school, to get yourself off to work or after-hours activities, it seems like most meals, especially snacks, need to be ‘on-the-go’ friendly. For food manufactures and food service locations to accommodate this new lifestyle trend, food packaging continues to get more clever, making it more convenient (and more attractive) to take food on-the-go.

Although this ‘packaging for convenience’ is convenient, it is far from sustainable. From individually packed granola bars to prepacked meals, there is very few food items that come without packaging. Not many people think about the impact that all this packing has on our environment, as more focus is on the pretty labels and marketing gimmicks that lead the average Canadian into thinking that “food convenience makes my life so much more convenient.” But it is not convenient for the planet.

Packaging acts as a marketing tool to draw consumers into products that they wouldn’t normally buy or to entice consumers to different brands of regularly purchased items. Take cereal for example – this packaging always contains pretty colours and animals/cartoons to draw the consumer in. But not only does it come in a box, but there is an unrecyclable bag inside that box – why so much unnecessary packaging? All for marketing.

This applies to almost any and all reasons for excessive, unnecessary packaging. Granola bars, frozen foods, dairy products and even coffee and produce, all contain some sort of packaging. The worst part is that most of these items are ‘double packaged’ (i.e are boxed/bagged and wrapped/stickered) and almost all food packaging is considered garbage in waste streams. This means that all of that packaging is considered garbage and therefore ends up in the landfill. Filling our landfill with more plastics, metals and unrecyclable materials ultimately puts more stress on our ecosystems

For us here at Davidson Environmental, we deal with a lot of food, which means we see a lot of food packaging. From stickers on produce, to prepackaged greens and even boxed frozen foods, packaging in the food industry is extreme, and often unnecessary. The issue we have with packaging is mainly on a contamination level. It is very difficult to have proper practices in place to capture all food packaging to ensure proper composting methods ensue. Even the littlest things, such as stickers on produce, can have an impact on the quality of end material that is generated.

However, Davidson Environmental is in the process of acquiring a machine that will efficiently remove food packaging from the food we collect in our food disposal program. This machine is called the BioSqueeze 200, de-packing system. This innovative technology is a hydraulically operated press that separates food waste into two parts – packaging and food. As the packaged food moves through the machine, the food waste results in a nutrient rich, high solid, slurry mixture. This slurry mixture is mostly contamination free, with the ability to easily be mixed in with other compost material to be transformed into biogas & high nutrient fertilizer. This machine is the next big innovation in food waste disposal, especially with the increased use of food packaging presently in the consumer market. If we are able to successfully secure this machine in our St Catharines plant, we will be the first business in North America to have the BioSqueeze fully operational for institutional, commercial & industrial waste disposal.

Next time you throw food out into the green bin, please consider unpackaging the food item to avoid contamination in the composting or biogas process. It is very important, as not all processes have access to the BioSqueeze system as mentioned above. Further, as consumers, make food packing conscious choices. Consider alternative packaging options, buy in bulk forms where possible and reduce your overall environmental foot print. It may take you extra time to do this, but it is the most environmentally responsible choice!