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I'm a vegan, and a lot of times vegan frozen food (and maybe other food) packaging can be this thick plasticy non-recycable material.

Some example brand food images are the following:

How bad is throwing away these plastics? Should I avoid these as much as possible?

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Actually, all packaging materials can be recycled in the following way:

  • Burn it to energy, releasing carbon dioxide and preferably using that energy to create electricity or district heating (or ideally both in combined heat and power generation)
  • Let a tree grow in a forest, capturing the released carbon dioxide
  • Chop down the tree
  • Manufacture more of the packaging material from the tree

Yes, even plastics can be made this way. For cost reasons, most are made from oil today but there's genuine progress in making all sorts of fuels and plastics from trees.

Besides, packaging materials are not a genuine problem. Usually the weight of the packaging is about 1/20 the weight of the food inside the packaging. If the packaging is plastic, making one gram of plastic creates about 2.6 grams of CO2 emissions. So packaging of 200 grams of food (10 grams of packaging) creates 26 grams of CO2 emissions.

For example, one kilogram of pasta creates 1.3 kilograms of fossil CO2 emissions. So 200 grams would create 260 grams of CO2 emissions. Compare that to the 26 grams of CO2 produced by creating the packaging material.

The answer to minimizing your CO2 emissions from food is to prefer low-CO2 food items and avoid meat. For example, a very small amount of meat in a "recyclable" (I hate that word because by burning it and growing trees every organic material can be recycled) packaging is far worse to the environment than an equivalent amount of vegetables in a non-"recyclable" packaging.

You have already minimized your emissions by choosing to be a vegan. There's nothing more to do.

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  • This is a great answer, and gives me good insight on how emissions and recycling works. I have one question though. In your example, you said that if making 200 grams of pasta creates 260 grams of CO2 emissions, 26 grams of CO2 emissions is created for the plastic packaging. But then you can burn that 26 grams of packaging, so that can be used for electricity, and overall it's recycled. Right?
    – user13211
    Sep 20 at 18:29
  • Also I'm trying to upvote your answer, but when I try to sign in, Stackexchange just keeps asking me to sign up. Something's not right.
    – user13211
    Sep 20 at 18:32
  • @user13211 Welcome to Stack Exchange! You will be able to upvote answers after you accumulate 15 reputation. sustainability.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/vote-up
    – Nic
    Sep 20 at 21:49
  • Will this works for coal and gasoline?
    – kakaz
    Oct 12 at 12:12

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