Environmental wellness helps us be a partner with and a good steward of the earth. Taking care of the environment also helps us take care of ourselves and future generations. Some of the best ways to care for the earth are in the everyday things we do, such as purchasing and consuming food products.

Plastic, metal, glass, paper, and cardboard comprise the majority of packaging we take home or order online from retail stores. While packaging can be attractive and convenient for use, it creates environmental waste. Fortunately, it has become common practice for many households to recycle packaging waste by setting it out to the curb for pick-up. However, many recycling pick-up services only take #1 and #2 labeled plastic packaging, glass, and cardboard. The rest of the packaging unfortunately ends up in a landfill. However, you do have the power to change this outcome through your purchasing choices.

Reducing Packaged Purchases

Shifting your purchasing power away from prepackaged items wherever possible can make a significant difference for the environment. The following are some suggestions to get you started.

  • Start buying in bulk, such as grains, nuts, dried fruit, tea, etc.
  • Bring your own bags for bulk items
  • Look for products you can buy in unpackaged forms
  • Bring your own containers for restaurant leftovers, or coffee and water refills
  • Look for products in refillable containers
  • Purchase fresh produce instead of in cans, jars, or boxes
  • Purchase directly from your local farmer’s market or produce stands
  • Use cloth napkins and flatware and keep some in your office as well
  • When getting a snack or take out meal on the go, take it without a bag
  • Invest in stainless steel containers of several sizes for reusable packing of snacks and meals
  • Avoid snack-sized boxes or bags and make up your own small snacking containers
  • Use storage containers instead of foil, plastic wrap, and plastic bags
  • Invest in a salad spinner to avoid using paper towels to blot fresh washed produce
  • Purchase larger yogurt containers instead of several smaller cups
  • Use wax bags for sandwiches instead of plastic sandwich bags
  • Use a cloth or gold coffee filter instead of paper
  • Purchase bulk cheese and slice it yourself

Look for the following options when you need to purchase packaged items:

  • Glass or paper-based packaging
  • Post-consumer recycled packaging
  • Lightweight packaging options producing less waste and transport cost to the environment
  • Biodegradable packaging, however only suitable for curb-side compost pickup, as they need to be broken down in certain heat conditions, as they contaminate other plastic recycling processes

Benefits of Unpackaged Goods

  • You are contributing to reducing waste in landfills in the United States which typically one-third comes from packaging waste
  • Reducing your exposure to petrochemicals and other packaging chemicals
  • Saving trees that help clean the air
  • Packaging products costs money, and those costs are passed onto the consumer paying more for a product
  • Food generally tastes better
  • Being a great role model to others
  • Your choices send a message to retailers

Trend Toward Clean Packaging

The 2019 Food and Beverage Packaging Trends reported consumers and investors are wanting cleaner packaging. Fifty-one percent strongly agreed or agreed they are making different choices based the amount or type of packaging. Consumers are also showing a strong trend toward choosing to purchase products from socially and environmentally responsible companies. However, a price tag will be attached as companies look toward more environmentally friendly packaging. At the end of the day, it may be better to save yourself the extra cost and put to use the above noted suggestions. Simply start with one suggestion if it seems daunting and build from there. Meanwhile, know every environmental wellness change you make is one step closer to taking care of the earth and yourself.

Local Resource

For recycling of miscellaneous food packaging and other household items, Bloomington’s St. Luke Union Church has a 24-hour drop off recycling center. View the specific items they accept.

Where do you stand in your environmental wellness? Find out by taking the environmental assessment.

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Challenge yourself to make YOU a priority! SEVEN is a free program from Health Promotion and Wellness for students, faculty, and staff that focuses on the importance of the seven dimensions of wellness: emotionalenvironmentalintellectualphysicalsocialspiritual, and vocational. Seven runs from September to the end of April, and you can join at any time. Participants log wellness activities to earn points toward monthly prize drawings and compete toward end of the year overall point totals. Participants also receive the SEVEN e-newsletter and information on campus wellness events.

For additional details and to sign up, visit SEVEN.