Food In Canada

Packaging Report: The Greener Side of Plastics

By Cathy Cirko   

Business Operations Food Trends Packaging Sustainability consumer perception environment Plastic recycling

Canadian consumers have long been confident in the beneficial use of plastics as food packaging. These benefits vary from providing longer shelf life (thanks to moisture, oxygen and/or carbon dioxide barrier properties) to preventing loss of flavour and smell, to providing protection against air-borne pathogens to offering clear visibility of the product inside. But there is another side to plastic packaging, namely one that speaks directly to the environment.

Focus on Sustainability
Plastic is a lightweight material that makes a significant contribution to the 4Rs. Because it is so lightweight, it essentially uses less to do more. For example, it takes only 26 grams of plastic packaging to deliver four litres of milk via a single bag and the three plastic milk pouches contained inside. The plastic pouch generates a total of seven kilograms of solid waste per 1,000 litres of milk delivered, versus 31 kilograms of waste for the two-litre paper carton, and 32 kilograms for the one-litre refillable glass bottle.

In addition to doing more with less, the plastics industry is also actively engaged in “source reduction.” Today’s shopping bag, for example, uses 75 per cent less material than it did 20 years ago – yet it can still handle 1,000 times its own weight. Similarly, the plastic pop bottle is 20 per cent lighter today than when it was first introduced in 1977.

Plastic also has a positive story to tell when it comes to reuse. The material is strong and durable enough to enable multiple reuse several times over. Everything from rigid sandwich containers to the common plastic shopping bag – plastics are the perfect example of reuse in action.


When it comes to recycling, more and more types of plastic packaging are finding their way into recycling bins and depots all across the country. Today, plastic packaging accounts for an estimated 10 per cent of the Canadian household waste stream. And about 80 per cent of the plastic packaging entering the household is recyclable. In addition to the traditional plastic-bottle recycling that has been taking place for years, many municipalities are now collecting plastic tubs and lids, polystyrene and plastic bags/film (like the plastic wrap used on diapers, toilet paper and paper towels). This material is recycled into new bags, compost bins, trashcans, landscape lumber products, etc.

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