Published On: Fri, Aug 10th, 2018

Common Food Packaging Materials: The Good and The Bad

Eating habits tell a lot about a person’s health and his will to live a healthy lifestyle. When it comes to food, most of us genuinely try their best to be healthy. After all, nobody wants to put something into our mouths that may be harmful to our health. As of such, we buy organic food, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and try to drink filtered water or drinks without too much sugar. But have you ever thought about the effects that certain packaging materials may have on your food?

Although vegetables are healthy, they often come wrapped in large amounts of plastics. Bottled water often comes in plastic bottles and microwave dinners have a plastic box. It comes without saying that plastic is one of the most popular and commonly used packaging material in the food industry. It’s lightweight, durable, and, most importantly, cheap. But, is it healthy?

photo/ moerschy via pixabay

Plastic actually is a highly chemical material that contains several substances that can be bad for your health. But there is more than just plastic. Other common food packaging materials include glass jars, cartons, paper, and metal tins. And while the science is still pretty preliminary at this point, there are several studies showing that the type of packaging used for your food may, in fact, affect the quality of your food. So what are the healthiest options when it comes to packaging materials? And what should we keep in mind the next time we head out grocery shopping? Below, you can find the most common packaging materials used in the food industry along with their benefits and potential risks.


  • Plastic Packaging


Let’s start off with one of the most commonly used packaging materials: plastic. According to the Food Packaging Forum (2018), approximately 27% of all food is packed in plastic – making it the second most popular packaging material right after paper and board. Whether you’re shopping for vegetables, microwave dinners, meat, or a drink; chances are high it comes with a plastic wrapping. The reason why plastic is so commonly used lies in the fact that it is extremely simple and cheap to make. Added to that, plastics are durable and light in weight, making them easy to transport.

In today’s society, most of us have simply become used to having plastics around us all the time. Lately, however, people’s knowledge about plastic is growing and the resistance against the usage of plastic is increasing. Plastic is, in fact, a highly chemical material that is bad for the environment and your health. Although recyclable, the vast majority of plastic packaging never gets recycled. When it ends up in a landfill, it takes thousands of years to biodegrade. And in the process of decaying, it leaks harmful chemicals into the environment. But this is not all, plastic actually is also bad for your health.

Plastic wrappings contain a number of chemical and toxic materials. The most famous chemical present in (most types of) plastic is BPA. Although some of us might have heard the term BPA before, most of us may be thinking to themselves; what is BPA? In short, BPA is the most commonly used chemical in the world that is often found in plastic. When in contact with heat, pressure, or moist, plastic packaging may break down and the BPA chemical can possibly leak into the content of the packaging. When consumed, BPA can bring along health-related risks and increase your chance of getting certain sicknesses. As of such, many major health institutions and even national governments advise their people to stay away from plastic food packaging and bottled water.


  • Metal Packaging


Although not as popular as it used to be, metal packaging still makes up for approximately 15% of all packaging materials used in the food industry. Metal and tin packaging in the food industry is mostly found in the form of canning. Canning is an old technique that allows people to preserve their food in an airtight manner for a much longer period of time compared to other packaging methods. Because of this, tin cans are mostly used for storing preserved foods and soups. Regular small tin containers, however, are most commonly used to store other, every day, materials such as candy, cosmetics, or tobacco. Aluminum cans are famous for storing beers and soft drinks.

Aluminum and tin cans are considered to be a safe packaging material for food. Although some tins come with a coated inside that may contain BPA, this is nowadays highly unlikely. Plain metal tins are not harmful to your health nor for the environment. In fact, tin containers are considered to be among the healthiest and most sustainable packaging materials in the world. As of such, they are widely used in the food, cosmetic, and medical industries.


  • Glass Packaging


Glass packaging makes up roughly 11% of all the packaging materials used in the food industry. Glass jars and containers used to be the most commonly used material. Nowadays, however, their popularity has dropped due to the rise of cheaper and tougher materials such as plastics. Nevertheless, you can still find food products wrapped in small glass jars and containers. Due to their better appearance and higher price, however, glass wrappings usually are used for more high-end products. Hereby you can think about premium yogurts, milk, and wine.

When it comes to health and safety, glass is considered to be among the safest packaging materials. According to the U.S Food & Drug Administration (2016), glass is 100% safe to use. Glass is furthermore a natural product as it is made from liquid sand. Just like metal tins, glass packaging is 100% recyclable. As of such, choosing glass packaging is not only better for your health, it’s also an environmental choice.


  • Paper & Board Packaging


Paper and board packaging are with a presence of 34% the most common packaging material in the food industry. Paper packaging is used for any type of food including meat, eggs, and even drinks. Although paper is seemingly harmless, there are ways in which its use may affect your health.

Recent studies have shown that colored paper or paper wrappings with a print on it may leak ink into foods. As a result, it can cause hormonal disturbances. When paper has been recycled before, it may furthermore contain certain chemicals such as Diisobutyl Phthalate and Dibutyl Phthalate. An intake of these chemicals can cause digestion problems along with severe toxicity. As of such, it’s recommended to be careful when it comes to picking food stored in paper packaging. Despite its potential health-related risks, paper is a natural product and 100% recyclable. Therefore, it is considered to be a sustainable choice as it’s much better for the environment than, let’s say, plastic.

Author: Wouter Wargerink

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