Organic foods are becoming increasingly popular and for good reasons: they are grown without genetically modified organisms (bioengineered genes), synthetic pesticides and herbicides, or fertilizers made from petroleum or sewage sludge. One of the biggest issues with commercially-produced food is the abundance of chemicals that are used to keep crops safe from bugs and weeds. These pesticides and herbicides end up on the food being grown, which is then ingested by consumers.
As consumers grow more health-conscious, the demand for organic food has grown. After all, organics are better for the earth and human health. So why is it that so many organic foods still come in plastic packaging? Here are three reasons why plastic packaging undermines what organic growers and sellers stand for.
Organic food in plastic packaging is nothing short of ironic. One of the reasons consumers opt for organic foods is because they want to do something good for the environment. Organic farms tend to increase the health of soil by working in harmony with the earth’s natural functions. Natural fertilizers enhance the ecosystem within the soil, ensuring soil health and more abundant yields. Plastic directly contradicts the better-for-the-earth mentality that surrounds organic growing.
Even though plastic is technically recyclable, National Geographic estimates that 91% of plastic waste isn’t recycled. That means it ends up in landfills or out in the environment. In fact, plastic literally defines the modern landscape--our geological era is set apart from others by the layer of plastic found in our sedimentary rock. Plastic waste has particularly devastating effects on the ocean. Eight million tons of garbage end up in the seas annually. The result is a series of floating garbage islands, the largest of which is three times the size of France.
“If we’re smart, we’ll look for replacement materials, so that we don’t have this mismatch—good for a minute and contaminating for 10,000 years,” --Professor Rolf Holden.
Not only does it take hundreds of years for all this plastic to decompose, but as it does so, plastic releases harmful chemicals into the environment.
Organic farms aim to keep toxins out of the air, water supply, and soil. So why would they wrap food in plastic, which is known to taint groundwater in the U.S.? From there, plastic waste flows downward into larger bodies of water. It is also a magnet for toxins. This completely undermines what organic stands for; by not using pesticides and herbicides, organic growing doesn’t release chemicals into the environment. Not only is this better for the end consumer, but not using chemicals creates a healthy ecosystem for microorganisms within the soil, as well as promotes pollinator diversity.
Again, this is a direct contrast to the effects of plastic, which harms the wildlife within an ecosystem. For example, sea turtles will often mistake plastic debris for food. Up to 50% of sea turtles are ingesting plastic, which is contributing to their declining populations. 98% of Midway Island Albatross carcasses are found to have ingested some kind of plastic waste. Thousands of marine animals die annually after becoming entangled in it. As plastic is consumed by fish, mussels, and oysters, it enters our food chain.
You are what you eat, so is it any surprise that the Center for Disease Control found bisphenol A (BPA) in 93% of urine samples from U.S. citizens? BPA is an industrial chemical used to harden plastic. Many studies have revealed the effects of this additive on human health, and they range from male impotence and reproductive harm to heart disease, diabetes, and some kinds of cancers.
Growing awareness has led some states to pass laws that require businesses to provide warnings about potential chemical exposure (for example, California’s Prop 65). It has also led providers of plasticware to create “BPA-free” products. However, these are seldom better than products that contain BPA. In a practice known as “regrettable substitution,” companies making plastic have replaced BPA with chemicals like BPS and BPF, which are suspected to have similar adverse effects on human health.
No federal agency is required to study these substances before they are released on the market, so even health-conscious consumers are ingesting potentially dangerous chemicals. That is the irony of packaging organic foods in plastic: Health-conscious consumers choose organic with their personal well being and the well being of the natural world in mind, but their decision is undermined by the plastic their food is wrapped in.
The solution? Biodegradable packaging. In response to the hazards of plastic, a range of plastic alternatives has been innovated by forward-thinking companies. These packaging solutions are better for human health, the environment, and even a company’s bottom line. To learn more about how you can benefit from making the switch to sustainable packaging, view our Sustainability Report.
Enter your email to become part of the ReadyCycle movement and learn more about what we offer.