Environmental Impact of Food Packaging

The Environmental Impact of Food Packaging: Comparing Different Packaging Options

From overcrowded landfills to littered streets and waterways, the environmental impact of food packaging is enormous.

While it can be challenging to find products without any packaging at all, the good news is there is a wide range of packaging options out there to help us limit the impact of food packaging on the planet. 

Why Use Food Packaging At All?

The fact is that we rely on packaging and most products are enclosed in various types of material.

Before we consider the merits of different packaging materials, let’s consider why they are essential in the first place. 

  • To prevent damage

  • To preserve food and improve shelf life

  • To provide information on the food inside

  • To allow better usage (for example cartons of milk or tinned slices, which can be used easier and stored for longer)

In places where food security is a challenge, packaging can play a doubly important and beneficial role in providing access to good-quality food.

The Environmental Impact of Different Types of Food Packaging

Paperboard boxes

Paperboard is used for cereal boxes. It’s also used to make milk cartons, juice cartons, cake packaging, frozen food packaging and long-life food packaging.

When paperboard is used in beverage containers, the containers are refundable (can be returned for money) in most locales, so recycling rates on beverage containers are generally high.

Other paperboard containers are recyclable, providing they aren’t soiled with oil or food debris.

Corrugated boxes

You’ll recognize corrugated cardboard by the rippled middle layer sandwiched between two flat layers of paperboard.

Corrugated boxes are stronger and more durable than normal paperboard boxes, making it effective in transporting and storing produce without causing damage.

However, because the rippled layer contains a lot of air, these boxes are bulkier to transport and less environmentally friendly as a result. Like most paper-based material, corrugated boxes are recyclable, providing they aren’t soiled. 

Read more: What Makes the Best Soap for Babies and Kids?

Plastic boxes

Often used for bottles, fruits and vegetables, yogurt tubs or syrups, plastic is a common sight in any store aisle and can be very harmful to the environment if only used once.

The good news is that, depending on the type of resin used (which can be identified by numbers 1 through 7 inside the recycling emblem on the packaging), plastics can be recycled.

The extent to which plastics are actually recycled is questionable. Packaging labeled as type-1 and type-2 are the most readily and commonly recycled. 

Rigid boxes

Rigid boxes, commonly used for luxury items,,consist of thick paperboard often overlaid with premium printed paper. They're also used for display purposes and fancy gifts. 

Chipboard packaging

This is one of the greenest types of packaging around. Chipboard is similar to very heavy cardstock and is made from recycled paper and cardboard.

What’s more, it can be recycled again once used! In addition, it takes up less space than corrugated cardboard, making it more environmentally friendly to transport.  

Poly bags

FDA-approved, food-safe poly bags keep foods fresh and prevent moisture or contamination.

They can be made from almost any type of plastic but are most commonly made from type 1 plastic, or polyethylene (PE). While PE is recyclable, most consumers treat it as single use and it usually ends up in landfill. 

Some manufacturers use biodegradable, compostable and recyclable materials for their poly bags.

Harmful poly bags can litter the environment and, if burned, produce toxic fumes and pollute the air. They’re also a threat to marine animals, who can die from swallowing plastic bags. 

By the way, consider checking out our charcoal bar soap product if you like bar soaps.

Glass bottles

Glass bottles are less common than they were 20 years ago, largely because plastic bottles have replaced them. Nonetheless, they can be beautiful and recyclable.

So what’s not to like about them? Glass is made from sand, a very abundant material. But to get from sand to glass, you have to heat the sand up to thousands of degrees and let it melt.

That creates a big carbon footprint. And when glass is recycled, it gets melted down again.

So while glass is going through a resurgence as a packaging material, it isn’t as eco-friendly as it may seem.

Foil sealed bags

Most commonly used for confectionery, cereals and alcoholic drinks, foil-sealed bags are effective at protecting the shelf life of products.

The con?

Foil itself is not easy to recycle, making it an extremely damaging type of food packaging.   

The Environmental Impact of Food Packaging

Food packaging is an urgent global issue. The harmful materials and chemicals used, as well as its single-use nature, make it a huge threat to the planet.

With landfills and oceans becoming increasingly clogged, the convenience of food packaging is hugely outweighed by the waste and pollution it leaves behind.

While more sustainable options exist, the negative impact of food packaging must be urgently addressed across the globe. 


How does packaging affect the environment?

Single use or unrecycled food packaging often ends up in our waterways, resulting in the United Nations declaring the plastic pollution of oceans “a planetary crisis.” Food packaging can also pollute our air and soil, while its manufacturing process itself often contributes to air emissions, including greenhouse gases.

Why is packaging good for the environment?

While the ideal solution would be to have no packaging at all, it is necessary in order to protect food and prevent waste - particularly with fresh food. When food is left to decompose in landfills, methane is released into the environment, causing air pollution and global warming. 

What packaging is bad for the environment?

Single-use plastic is the biggest villain when it comes to the impact of food packaging. While it can be recycled, most of it ends up in landfill or in our oceans, releasing greenhouse gasses as it slowly breaks down.

What is the problem with packaging?

Waste is the main issue with packaging. The use of unsustainable materials coupled with the modern demand for packaged goods results in unnecessary damage to the environment.

What are three harmful effects of food packaging to the environment?

  • Litter, landfill and waterway clogging, causing the release of greenhouse gasses

  • Plastic pollution in marine environments and soil

  • The necessity of recycling, which is a process which still contributes to fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions

CleanO2’s Carbon Capture Soap & Its Environmental Impact

We aren’t a food company, but we love eating and are aware of the toll packaging can have on the environment. This article is based on our own research and we wanted to share it. 

As a personal-care products maker and an advocate of the circular economy, CleanO2 is also aware of the consequences of packaging in the beauty industry.

Packaging is the biggest source of carbon emissions in the beauty industry. To this end, all of our packaging is made with recyclable paper stock that is FSC certified (an international designation for forestry products that are sustainably cultivated). 

Of course, our main mission is to reduce carbon emissions by the use of our CarbinX™ technology.

This device captures carbon dioxide emissions from building heating systems and turns it into non-toxic pearl ash (potassium carbonate). 

Then what happens? You’ve probably guessed the next part - we turn it into soap and cleaning products!

Our all-natural soap bars and liquid soaps are fully biodegradable and leave no harmful trace in the environment after they wash down your drain. Plus, we never use palm oil, sulfates, phthalates, parabens, or synthetic dyes...only skin-friendly and eco-friendly ingredients.

At CleanO2, we’re passionate about protecting the environment and single-use materials have no place in our ethos. 

Back to blog