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The 6 Least-Green Packaging Materials To Avoid (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 07/28/10 09:20 AM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 06:10 PM ET

From The Daily Green's Carol Thompson:

On July 1st, Seattle banned single-use food packaging. Restaurants in the city are now required to use recyclable or compostable packaging and provide bins for customers to dispose of the material. The city hopes it will save 6,000 tons of food packaging waste from being deposited in a landfill and produce compost it can sell for gardens and landscaping.

This new legislation highlights the growing impact that packaging - which represents about 65% of household garbage and 33% of the refuse in an average landfill - is having on the environment. With recycling, composting and switching to reusable containers, packaging waste can be greatly diminished. Check out our list of the worst packaging offenders and what alternatives you can use to reduce their environmental impact.

Also see the most absurdly wasteful food packaging we could find at the grocery store.

Polystyrene Foam
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1,460,000 tons of polystyrene foam were deposited in landfills in the United States in 2006

Also known as Styrofoam, polystyrene foam is the worst of the packaging offenders. It's made of non-renewable petroleum and once manufactured, it's not biodegradable. As soon as polystyrene is contaminated by food (like crumbs or grease from your french fries) it is no longer recyclable, and very few recycling facilities accept it even when it's clean.

Polystyrene is also hazardous to human health. It contains the neurotoxins styrene and benzene, which are widely accepted to be carcinogens. These toxins can leach into food that's acidic, warm, alcoholic or oily and into the environment after exposure to rain and other weather. Many cities, like Portland, San Francisco and Freeport, Maine, have banned polystyrene both because of the threats it poses to human and environmental health and because it can choke wildlife when swallowed.

Alternatives include biodegradable food containers (if you promise to compost them yourself) and reusable mugs.

Ever wonder what recycling symbols on plastics mean? We have the answers.
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Filed by Travis Donovan  |