A recent study by nonprofits As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that the food industry has a long way to go toward reducing the environmental impact of their product packaging.
The study analyzed 47 prominent companies and ranked them Poor, Needs Improvement, Better Practices, or Best Practices based on their commitment to recycled content, recyclability in materials used, switching to reusable packaging, and boosting material recycling. Of the 47 companies analyzed, zero achieved Best Practices status, and only two (Starbucks and McDonalds) reached Better Practices.
McDonalds reached Better Practices status by reducing the weight of its packaging and using 33% post-consumer recycled content to make its sandwich boxes. McDonalds has also made a pledge to phase out the use of foam cups, which decompose into small pellets that are harmful to animals.
Starbucks received its Better Practices status for the use of 10% post-consumer recycled content in coffee cups, offering to serve beverages in reusable cups, and changing the material of its cold-beverage cups to one that produces fewer greenhouse-gas emissions during manufacturing.
Eight companies were designated Poor in the study, including Wendy’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Quiznos, Dairy Queen, Jack in the Box, Domino’s Pizza, and Papa John’s Pizza. Based on information they made publicly available, the companies were found to have no leadership on packaging sustainability.
The study stated that consumers and the government have a responsibility to hold companies accountable for their packaging choices. Unfortunately, more consumers are becoming confused about what is and is not recyclable, with packaging becoming more complex over time. The study also showed that many consumers do not have access to curbside recycling bins, so are unable to recycle packaging. San Francisco and Seattle now require compost and recycling bins to be provided at all businesses, making it easier for consumers to make environmentally responsible choices when discarding their packaging.
Consumers can show their support for sustainable packaging by frequenting companies that are committed to recycling, reusing packaging when they can, and recycling packaging at home.