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The Waste Surrounding Your Food


We live in a disposable world. We live for convenience, and the products we buy reflect that value. We are truly a fast food nation, with 22 percent of our restaurant meals being bought from a car. But it’s not always the food that’s the problem—sometimes, in fact, it’s what our food and drink comes in.

Americans have a packaging problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that in 2003, over 236 million tons of solid waste was produced in the United States: paper materials comprised 35.2 percent, plastic was 11.3 percent, 8 percent was metal, and glass comprised the final 5.3 percent. Only a little less than 30 percent of this waste was recycled, leaving 70 percent sent to the landfills. Just think of how often you eat out and see the recycling arrows on a cup, but no recycling bin in the vicinity.
The average American throws away about 100 polystyrene cups every single year, and these cups have a lifespan of over 500 years. The impact that eating out can have adds up very quickly.

Luckily, some companies are stepping up with new containers that are made from renewable resources or are biodegradable after their use. The bottled water company, BIOTA has taken advantage of NatureWorks’ PLA—a plastic substance created from corn—using this biodegradable material to contain their spring water. In the right composing conditions, the bottle can break down within about 12 weeks.

BIOTA is the only company using this bottle for its water—most use the typical plastic bottle to showcase their beverages, but though these are recyclable, most end up in landfills: 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away every hour in the United States. According to SmartCycle:

"More than 25 million tons of plastic packaging are sold in the U.S. every year. That's enough to fill Yankee Stadium to the top over 500 times. Unfortunately, less than 5 percent of that gets recycled."

Luckily, SmartCycle has reprocessed these bottles so they can be made into new packages for your food. (And the benefits are greater than just the obvious recycling action. Check more out here.)

Other companies, like EarthShell, have found ways to combine renewable resources to create a completely biodegradable packaging product, but these still are things you have to search out to use. It will take, in part, the actions of consumers to make sure we produce less waste with our food packaging, so keep this in mind the next time you eat out.