Sustainable Packaging: What Consumers Should Know This Thanksgiving

While the Thanksgiving holiday will look a bit different this year, there will still be plenty of small gatherings and delicious home cooked meals. With those home cooked meals and extra food comes excess household product packaging, which makes up 65 percent of household trash, a figure that will likely be higher this Thanksgiving holiday. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have already spent more time cooking and consuming at home, which has led to unprecedented levels of food and beverage product packaging, like plastic bags, bottles, glass jars, cans, Styrofoam, and cardboard boxes being landfilled or incinerated.

As we continue to adapt to the new normal, consumers have a role to play in reducing the environmental impact of non-recyclable food and beverage packaging. You do not have to be an expert; you simply need to keep a few facts in mind when grocery shopping this holiday season to purchase more sustainable and environmentally friendly products.

Over the last decade, as consumer attitudes about environmental stewardship have rapidly evolved, companies have moved to offer more sustainable products and packaging for consumers. This is great news, but unfortunately, much of the marketing around package recyclability, especially in the food and beverage sector, can be misleading and leave consumers with a false sense of what is actually recyclable and sustainable. With food and beverage sales picking up during the holiday season, more packaging being disposed of at home, and fewer options to dispose of it responsibly, consumers need better information about the recyclability of products so that they can make more informed purchasing decisions.

The good news is that Americans are increasingly concerned about the sustainability of their purchasing decisions. Research has found that nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults consider sustainability when making a purchase. One study found that consumers will recycle at significantly higher rates when they are given better information.

Consumers cannot always rely on the labels on packaged goods since many of these do not present the full picture. So, what food and beverage products make for the best choices when keeping sustainability in mind? Unfortunately, there is a lack of easily accessible information or even worse, sometimes misinformation is perpetuated.

What packaging should consumers try to avoid? Water bottles remain popular in America, but even when they are recycled, plastic bottles are eventually landfilled or incinerated. Cartons and flexible pouches, both of which are used for beverage containers like juice pouches and boxes or chicken broth that consumers may be stocking up on for Thanksgiving, are often composites of plastics and paper, making the recycling process so costly that many recycling programs simply won’t accept them. A dismal 16 percent of cartons are recycled in the U.S.

The fact is that many well-meaning consumers are not familiar with the recyclability of different beverage packaging materials. Only 8 percent of Americans, for example, know that metals, like aluminum, are the most recyclable food and beverage packaging material, but 26 percent mistakenly think plastic is.

Unlike plastics, glass, and cartons, steel and aluminum cans can be perpetually recycled, and they produce a smaller carbon footprint compared to other types of food and beverage containers. Aluminum cans are recycled at nearly double the rate of plastic or glass bottles and aluminum beverage cans contain an average of 73 percent recycled material, compared to just 23 percent for glass containers and 3 percent for PET plastics. Consumers should consider the recycling benefit of aluminum cans to the environment, especially when making purchasing decisions.

This benefit extends to can-packaged foods, too. Consumers should feel confident that popular, affordable Thanksgiving staples like green beans, pumpkin puree, and cranberry sauce packaged in cans can be easily recycled and will be turned back into a canned good again and again, infinitely. Today’s canned goods also offer safety from food borne illnesses by utilizing new and improved modern can linings that are safe barriers from bacteria and help maintain quality, flavor and freshness, all while remaining shelf stable longer than most other packaging products.

This Thanksgiving, consumers should take the opportunity to positively impact the environment by purchasing food and beverage products packaged in sustainable and recyclable materials. Keeping these facts in mind can help make significant progress towards protecting our environment and contributing to a more sustainable world.

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