The Food Industry Drags Its Heels on Recyclable Packaging

by Project Censored

This article focuses on the lack of effort that the food industry has put towards using more recyclable and compostable packaging. The groups, As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council published the report that brought this to light. The two groups analyzed the 47 companies using 4 criteria which are: source reduction, or switching to reusable packaging; recycled content; recyclability and materials used; and boosting materials recycling. None of the companies reached the best level of packaging. Only two of the 47 companies were recognized as having better practices, and the top of the two companies, Starbucks, uses 10 percent recycled content in coffee cups, and offers to serve its drinks in reusable mugs; they also changed the way they processed their plastic cups to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. People generally find the rules pertaining to recycling to be quite confusing. This is because packaging has become more complex over the years. One way to help increase the action of recycling is to provide receptacles in front of a restaurant. Doing this puts the idea of recycling into the minds of the customers. This is uncommon because of the normal portability of the meals; the meals are generally taken home so they can be eaten there. However, two major cities, San Francisco and Seattle, have required the presence of recycling and composting bins at every business.


Eliza Barclay, “Food Industry Drags Its Heels On Recyclable And Compostable Packaging,”The Salt: NPR, January 29, 2015

Student Researcher: Isa Wynn, Indian River State College

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College

Ethics Alert

The ethical problems that this article brings to light are the fault of the food industry and the consumers. First are the faults of the food industry, which are shown by the eight companies that have failed to even attempt to change the packaging of their products. There are a countless number of dangerous container-like Styrofoam containers (boxes, cups, etc.) that the industry uses. These items break up and affect the environment by killing the organisms that consume them. The small beads are not digestible, they don’t break down in the stomach, so they just sit there and block the way of actual food. Even when this material is put into landfills, it is still accessible to other organisms. This can go for any of the substances that are produced to contain food or drink.  The food industry is aware of the effects that the byproducts and the products (packaging) themselves have on the environment. The packaging that they do produce is cheap, and the change would cost a considerable amount of money. This type of profiteering that companies enjoy will not help anyone in the end. This isn’t just the fault of the companies, however, because the consumers need to be more conscious of their choices when disposing of packaging.

People who purchase anything “to go” are often disinterested in trying to figure out how to properly dispose of the packaging that the food comes with. According to the article, our recycling rate is at 34.5 percent, which means that there is much room for improvement. There is an element of negligence among the population.  Consumers need to seek more information when it comes to this subject, and use this knowledge to pressure the food industry and the government to make changes. There is also the issue of non-compostable packaging that is thrown out by consumers. This may be inevitable, so companies making their packaging more compostable would be a possible answer.

The way that we categorize the recyclables can also be confusing, since there are so many reusable items that need to be recycled in a specific way or deposited in a certain place.  It would benefit us all if the public were to demand an easier way to go about recycling.  Just knowing how to recycle a substance would help to promote recycling. Consumers keeping the importance of recycling in mind, for the sake of preserving the environment, can also help keep them alert to the lack of recyclable materials currently being used in the food industry.