Waste created from food is not a new topic. I’ve been learning about how to be more environmentally friendly since I was a child. I grew up with curbside recycling, we had compost bins in our school lunch rooms and I even buy local when possible, but is that good enough? Nowadays our food comes with so much packaging that it can be hard to avoid. So what’s a concerned citizen to do?
When I have questions like these, I take them to the experts at the Northern Environmental Action Team (NEAT), located in northeast B.C. Karen Mason-Bennett is a program coordinator there and is a wealth of information on all things green!
So why is food packaging is such a problem? According to Karen, it isn’t just the fact that we are creating waste when we eat a packaged food. It also takes a lot of energy to make and ship the packaging before it’s ever used. Not to mention all of the human energy (labour) involved and the fact that many single serving portions tend to require a larger package as well – think individually-wrapped granola bars in a cardboard box!
All of this packaging exists for a reason, however – our own desire for convenience. The demand for these products has gone up as many more people are choosing prepackaged snacks out of convenience and the desire for portion control. We want more value for our time, and being able to spend less time preparing and packing our food is something we’re willing to pay for. Food packaging is also used in some cases to extend the shelf life of a product. For example, cucumbers that are shrink-wrapped in plastic are said to last 20% longer.
An eye-opening exercise to try the next time you go grocery shopping is to remove all of the “extra” packaging from your food as you put grocery items away in your home. How much packaging does it take just to get the food from the shelf to your home? You’ll likely end up with a stack of cardboard boxes and a bundle of plastic wrapping that were completely unnecessary.
But there are easy ways to cut down on this waste! As a mom of 3, Karen is a pro at packing lunches! Here are some of her tips on how to cut back your snack and lunch food waste:
- Invest in reusable containers in a variety of sizes – then actually use them!
- Buy packaged products in larger containers and then portion them into your own reusable smaller containers at home.
- Snack on whole foods – nature has its own packaging!
- Make leftover suppers into tomorrow’s lunch by packing these in reheatable containers.
- Can your own preserves like peaches and applesauce in single serving jars.
- Set a rule for yourself or for children – only one disposable item per lunch.
The important thing Karen wants you to remember is that “being green” is not a destination, it’s a journey. Some packaging is unavoidable, but making small changes in the food products you’re choosing can have a bigger impact. Every item that you reuse one extra time cuts that portion your waste by 50%. Let continual improvement be your goal, rather than environmental sainthood!
About Holly Christian
Holly Christian is the NH Men's Health Coordinator. Previous to this, she worked as the school nutrition lead for Northern Health’s population health department. Her passion for food and health promotion drew her to the nutrition field and she relocated to northern B.C. from the east coast. Although she has fully embraced northern living, she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She stays active by training for triathlons, and is looking forward to this year’s community garden harvest – a personal experiment that is so far succeeding!