Plastic food packaging is a great innovation, revolutionizing the way we package our foods. It has drastically lowered the costs of packaging food. But it has also created other challenges. How can we continue to meet the challenges presented by plastic technology and still meet the quality standards we all expect from our food? What are some of the tradeoffs we make along the way?
Producing food using plastic takes a number of inputs; water, land, fertilizers and labor. In Canada, the challenges presented by plastic technology are compounded by the fact that plastic is unable to meet some of our country's quality standards for food. Even more, with all of the pollutants it releases into the environment, using plastic from single-use polythene bags makes it difficult for consumers to accept. With this in mind, producers are exploring new technology that will allow them to use a sustainable alternative material called Ligna.
As the technology becomes more advanced, we should expect to see improvements. For instance, this new type of packaging allows manufacturers to produce food products in sizes that were previously thought to be impossible. At the same time, the technology is allowing for the reduction of waste. A combination of these two trends will likely bring about even greater challenges as society continues to evolve around the environment and become more aware of the damage we do to it every day. This trend may also usher in a new era of recycling and reclamation.
On the flipside, there are also concerns that come with the increased use of plastic food packaging. Studies have shown that certain chemicals used to create plastic food packaging contain toxins that leach into the freshness of our food. One study showed that the levels of copper found in canned vegetables were ten times higher than in those canned fruits that were vacuum packaged. While these results remain controversial, other studies point out that phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) have the potential to interfere with a woman's hormones. As more concerns are raised, these types of plastics are likely to undergo restrictions.
While it seems clear that some challenges will be faced as society makes changes towards plastic packaging, we also see solutions being developed. For instance, one recent development suggests that plastic food packaging could actually help to prevent food spoilage. In this new experiment, test subjects were given plastic yogurt instead of regular yogurt. Those who tried the plastic yogurt showed a 10% decrease in the amount of bacteria found in their samples, compared to those who took regular yogurt. These experiments are still preliminary, but they show promise that packaging solutions may eventually reduce costs and increase the safety of both consumers and produce.
The future may hold even greater challenges for the plastic food packaging industry. For example, environmental activists and some politicians are pushing for greater taxation on packaged foods. Similar movements have been seen in Europe and the U.S. Though no specific plans for legislation have been developed, the push may be an important impetus for companies to reform. Plastic food packaging manufacturers have already expressed concern over possible legislation and are likely to fight any new regulation aggressively.
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