Photograph by Ram K., National Geographic Your Shot
Photograph by Ram K., National Geographic Your Shot

Food Wrappers That Aren’t Destined for the Landfill

For environmentally conscious foodies, tossing out a non-recyclable food container is painful. Even dropping glass jars and PET (#1) yogurt cups into the recycling triggers pangs of guilt—will they really end up getting a new lease on life? And some of us (I’m not saying who) just can’t help ourselves: When we see empty compostable cups in the office landfill bin, we have to fish them out.

The sad fact is, avoiding food packaging waste is nearly impossible. Even as more cities phase out polystyrene containers and more businesses adopt plant-based, compostable plastics, sales of pod coffee makers have exploded—along with mountains of those little plastic pod containers.

The growing popularity of reusable grocery bags has made it easier to shop relatively waste-free at the farmers market, and health food stores offer bulk food bins and reusable glass containers. But even the most diligent consumers are hard-pressed to get through the week without tossing out at least a few food wrappers, cardboard boxes, or clamshell containers.

Luckily, there are lots of scientists and innovators on the case, working on packaging that can be eaten or dissolved in water (if you missed it, we’ve got a great roundup at Food Packaging: Have Your Cake and Eat the Wrapper, Too). And many scientists continue to work on ways to perfect biodegradable plastics; just last month, researchers at Tuskegee University announced they’re working on a stronger and more flexible bioplastic made of eggshells. Others are looking into making plastic bags from a coconut byproduct.

Of course, many of these high-tech approaches are just extensions of the packaging solutions Mother Nature provides. As people around the world already know, some of the most environmentally friendly wrappers around come from plants and trees. Here are a few of our favorite biodegradable food packages, courtesy of our Your Shot community.