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The plastic packaging problem

The most common form of food packaging is plastic. It's cheap, it's disposable, it won't break if you drop it, and it ticks the boxes for food safety. Bonus: there's even a recycle symbol on it.

Looks can be deceiving though. Since China stopped taking plastic waste, most of it isn't recyclable in the US. But unless you live on a farm or have a garden, the food you eat needs (some kind of) packaging to get to you.

Food packaging made from plastic is a $28 billion global market and is growing at about 2.5% a year. Economically, it's often cheaper to create new plastic than it is to recycle it. A decade ago, the EPA noted that packaging products accounted for 23% of garbage going into our landfills. We can only imagine what that statistic looks like now.

You don't have to look far to see that plastic has become a prime pollutant of our land, waters, and air. This is problematic--not just because plastic trash is everywhere--but because it has a long lifespan and rarely breaks down. When it does, it leaches toxic chemicals into our environment and turns into microplastic, ultimately ending up in not-so-nice places like our soil, beaches, in the stomachs of animals, and at the bottom of the sea.

But consumer habits and government policies are changing. At grocery stores, it's common for people to bring their bags or pay extra for a non-plastic bag. Globally, a wave of countries like Thailand and China have recently put bans in place for single-use plastics. While this is big news for the environment (and shoppers are getting creative), a few big questions remain.

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