Should health be an indicator of sustainable packaging?
Every day, we’re exposed to chemicals – in food and drink packaging, tableware and other food contact materials. Some of these risk negative effects on our health, from affecting the body’s hormones to increasing the risk of cancer, diabetes and other diseases. The good news is that by choosing the right packaging materials, we can reduce our exposure to these harmful chemicals.
In our latest live Q&A, we explored the health impacts of food packaging and introduced the revolutionary packaging assessment tool – the Understanding Packaging Scorecard.
Our special guests Miquel Porta (physician, professor and expert in biomonitoring the human health effects of environmental contaminants) and Jane Muncke (Managing Director and Chief Scientific Officer at the Food Packaging Forum Foundation) joined to provide their professional insights on the impacts of food contact materials and to explain the science behind the health benefits of using more chemically inert materials such as glass. The session was moderated by Adeline Farrelly (Secretary General of FEVE).
The impact of packaging chemicals on human health
Every day, we are exposed to a variety of chemicals from multiple sources, from the food we consume and its packaging, to the water we drink, and even the air we breathe. The long-term effects of exposure to these contaminants are unclear, but initial research suggests the impact on human health could be significant, from interfering with our endocrine systems, to transferring carcinogens into food stuff, to suppressing our immune systems.
“A great deal of scientific studies show these pollutants change some of our body functions, including the endocrine system. Pollutants contribute to causing disorders and diseases like infertility, congenital malformations, diabetes, obesity, some cancers or Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” – Miquel Porta
Packaging chemicals and micro-plastics can pose a particularly significant risk as they can migrate into our food and amplify our exposure. However, this can be avoided by choosing the right packaging materials, and by consciously choosing to consume products that come in inert packaging materials that are free of migrating hazardous chemicals. In turn, brands must also take responsibility by providing inert packaging, such as glass.
The Understanding Packaging Scorecard: a tool for health and sustainability
Until now, sustainable packaging assessments have focused mainly on environmental impacts like CO2 and plastic pollution as a proxy for all environmental impacts – but human health effects must not be understated, and should be equally measured. That’s why the new Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard is a free online tool that assesses the environmental and human health impacts of the most common packaging materials used in the food industry.
Developed with industry partners, NGOs and academics, the UP Scorecard considers both quantitative parameters (such as plastic pollution and carbon emissions), and qualitative parameters (including sustainable sourcing and chemicals of concern) to evaluate packaging materials through their life cycle.
“It doesn’t make sense to separate sustainable packaging from human health, and what you can measure you can manage. The Scorecard makes factual comparisons of different packaging materials possible, because you’re not comparing apples to oranges – you’re comparing apples to apples.” – Jane Muncke
Although the Understanding Packaging Scorecard is a step towards promoting more sustainable and healthier packaging options, there are still information gaps about the composition of certain chemicals in the supply chain.
“There are still knowledge gaps about the packaging materials that perform best because it is difficult to get information about what the packaging actually contains. Oftentimes, the producers of the materials do not share this information with customers.” – Jane Muncke
To help overcome these data gaps, the UP Scorecard compiles a list of that are of greatest concern to human health because of their inherent chemical properties, where their use should be avoided in food packaging. Conversely, the UP Scorecard shows that materials that are inert, with low chemical uptake and low migration rates and which don’t release chemicals into food, are considered safer for human health, as they are better suited for food storage and can be safely reused over time.
And that’s where glass packaging comes in. As a packaging composed of three natural ingredients – sand, soda ash, and limestone – glass is virtually inert, which means that it is non-reactive and doesn’t release chemicals into our food.
How using healthy and sustainable packaging materials can benefit your brand
Every week, new scientific evidence of the impact of chemical contaminants comes to light, and we gain a better understanding of the long-term effects of being exposed to chemicals in everyday packaging. In time, this is likely to lead to increased regulations on food contact materials, and a growing awareness among consumers of potential health risks from chemical contaminants.
When it comes to creating a strong brand identity and image, the choice of packaging materials can play a critical role. Selecting healthy and sustainable packaging materials from the start is not only beneficial for the environment, but can also enhance your brand’s reputation and appeal to health-conscious consumers. Consumers are increasingly looking for products from companies that take responsibility for their actions and demonstrate integrity. Brands that embrace this knowledge and prioritize sustainability are more likely to thrive in today’s dynamic marketplace.
That’s what makes the Understanding Packaging Scorecard a powerful tool for brands to assess whether their packaging decisions align with consumer health and sustainability goals. By leveraging this tool, brands can position themselves as healthy players in the market – ensuring their packaging materials are both chemical-free and environmentally friendly, and helping consumers to make informed decisions about everyday packaging that reinforce their commitment to health and sustainability. And when it comes to choosing food packaging that is both healthy and sustainable, glass is an excellent choice. It is inert, recyclable, and versatile, making it a convenient and safe option for consumers.
Did you learn anything about the health benefits of glass? Do you think the Understanding Packaging Scorecard is a helpful tool? Head over to LinkedIn and let us know! To keep up to date with the latest trends in the glass industry or our upcoming Q&As, don’t forget to follow our LinkedIn Account.