Environmental News

5 Alternatives to Styrofoam For Food Packaging

An empty Styrofoam cup sits upside down on a wooden post

Guest Post by Kat Sarmiento

Over the past few years, we have seen many initiatives and innovations created and perfected to address the ever-growing challenge of climate change. From smart buoys that accurately predict the weather to carbon capture and storage technologies, we’ve come a long way from where we were before. 

We can even see this in the food industry with regenerative agriculture, vertical farming, and biogas. Many changes are being created in the ag industry because the climate crisis directly impacts food production. In fact, one of its worst effects is on our access to food. Higher temperatures mean crop failure, which, in due course, disrupts supply chains the world over. 

However, it doesn’t end there. Food still needs to be packaged; unfortunately, many businesses still use Styrofoam as their material of choice. 

If businesses want to promise sustainability to their customers and attain net-zero emissions, they have to start at what might initially seem insignificant. Read on to learn more about the problem of using Styrofoam and the viable alternatives businesses can use for food packaging. 

The Problem with Styrofoam

Some of the most popular types of plastic are polystyrene and Styrofoam. Given their low cost, they have become the standard lightweight solution across several industries. As a result, you’ll encounter it a lot in food packaging, as padding for fragile deliveries or as basic insulation. It being so commonplace in our world is exactly what’s wrong. 

Styrofoam might keep your food warm or cold for longer, but it’s not an eco-friendly or sustainable solution. Although it may decompose at high temperatures, it still pollutes our planet with excessive amounts of microplastics, harming both humans and animals.

Furthermore, only some forms of Styrofoam can be recycled, and doing so is quite expensive. Most local recycling facilities lack the necessary equipment. Additionally, businesses cannot use recycled Styrofoam in the food service industry again. This negates the entire point of recycling in the first place!

Lastly, Styrofoam is produced using synthetic chemicals and nonrenewable fossil fuels. Both increase pollution.

In short, Styrofoam might be cheap and convenient, but its production and our constant use of it will only hurt the planet and every living thing on it. So, for catering services, cafeterias, restaurants, and other businesses that need to package their food, they either go the Styrofoam route or look for more sustainable options. 

5 Eco-Friendly Alternatives

PLA-Lined Paper

If you’re looking for the most environmentally friendly choice, it’s PLA (polylactic acid)-lined paper. PLA is a plant-based resin typically made from cassava, corn, and sugarcane sugars. PLA can be used to make clear, compostable containers and as an impermeable liner in paper cups and containers to prevent them from getting soggy. 

So, if you’re looking for a container for your hot and cold drinks or containers for all kinds of food, try PLA-lined paper! 

Advantages

  • Soak-through resistant
  • Can tolerate temperatures between 32 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit before distorting
  • Compostable at the end of its life
  • Microwave and oven safe 

Disadvantages

  • Poor heat transfer, causing the container’s exterior to become hot to the touch 
  • Expensive 

Mineral-Filled Polypropylene Containers

Mineral-filled polypropylene, or MFPP, contains up to 40% natural mineral content. This effectively reduces the amount of plastic needed to make each cup or container. 

Advantages

  • Great for both hot and cold foods, as well as saucy foods, because it’s non-absorbent and leak-resistant 
  • More durable than other materials due to its cut-resistant construction 
  • Microwaveable 
  • Stackable 
  • Recyclable 
  • Provides an added level of safety for end-users 
  • Least expensive Styrofoam alternative options 

Disadvantages

  • Typically not accepted at recycling centers, so they need to be incinerated or disposed of in a landfill 

Reusable Polypropylene Containers

Reusable polypropylene take-out containers are an excellent solution for universities, cafeterias, retirement communities, and other organizations to cut back on disposable expenditures and waste generation. 

Advantages 

  • Completely BPA-free
  • Microwave and dishwasher-safe 
  • Leak-proof, break-resistant, and durable 
  • Each can be used up to 1,000 times 
  • Recyclable

Disadvantages 

  • An investment, as its initial cost is more costly than other eco-friendly options 

Bagasse or Sugarcane Containers

Bagasse, often known as sugarcane, is a renewable resource that is derived from sugarcane plants that are left over after the sugar has been harvested. This fibrous, pulpy material is used to make durable containers and requires much less energy than plastic products.

Advantages 

  • Grease and cut resistant 
  • Can withstand temperatures between 0 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit before distortion
  • 100% biodegradable
  • Refrigerator and microwave safe 

Disadvantages

  • Poor steam control, which may result in soggy foods 
  • More expensive than alternate Styrofoam alternatives 

PET Plastic Containers

PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic is a popular and economical choice for packaging foods and beverages since it is a robust, lightweight, clear plastic that doesn’t react with food products and drinks.

Advantages 

  • Freezer-safe, making them an excellent option for transporting cold foods
  • Shatterproof and highly transparent 
  • Recyclable 
  • BPA-free 
  • Inexpensive 

Disadvantages 

  • Often extracted from recycled petroleum-based plastics 
  • Lower heat resistance 
  • Not biodegradable 

Switch To Eco, Skip The Styro!

Nobody can deny how cheap Styrofoam is, especially for businesses that rely on food packaging to transport their products to their customers. However, the fact remains: Styrofoam is detrimental to the environment. When considering the environmental impact, Styrofoam isn’t as cheap as it first appears 

It is better to reduce your dependence on these products today as more and more consumers demand businesses to take action. Fortunately, there are now many green and sustainable options available at different price ranges that can help reduce your business’s carbon footprint and appeal to a more extensive customer base


Image courtesy of Theron Trowbridge on Flickr  

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