If I face the choice of organic, packaged food and non-organic non-packaged food - which is more sustainable? http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/ tells me the negative impact of packaging is twice as big in terms of ecological footprint compared to non-organic foods. Is this correct?

  • This question is extremely broad. Could you perhaps limit it to a specific type of food or type of packaging? Or, consider changing the question to something like, "how can one compare the impact of packaging to farming techniques?"
    – LShaver
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 21:02
  • 1
    this seems a strange choice. The organic food I get from my csa has no package or travel footprint. The further food travels or the more it's been processed (chopped, peeled, cooked etc) the more packaging gets added. It seems like trying to minimize all these things: packaging, travel distance, processing, and use of pesticides/fungicides/herbicides etc is a better plan than trying to decide among them. Commented May 1, 2017 at 21:45
  • @KateGregory I specifically have this spice shop near where I live where everything is loose weight but most is non-organic. I then have my organic shop where spice if packed in tiny metal and plastic, or glass and plastic containers probably at a ratio of 80% packaging, 20% spice by weight. There are a few other instances too when it comes to imported organic vegetables vs local non-organic ones where the local ones do not have packaging. Commented May 4, 2017 at 6:16
  • Please edit your question instead of only answering in the comments
    – user2451
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 16:26
  • I should note now after some time has passed that WWF has removed the calculator version my post referred to. I do not know if this means that my question should be removed as I have not seen other sources claim as large impact of packaging as the old WWF calculator. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 6:39

2 Answers 2


It's all a matter of how you do the counting! If you take into account how much diversity you destroy, non-organic food is worse than "too much" cardboard packaging. But how do you count this? Life has no price, and damages are potentialities.

On the other hand, the more you use "non-organic" method for farming, the more you need them. So it's even worse on the long run.

My guess is the study only accounts for what is accountable as for today in terms of carbon footprint, and doesn't apply to what is destroyed by non-organic farming.


My point is environmentally friendly produced food is far better because it helps keeping balance between the species - even better if you buy them "package free".

But I will add to my point, as Uli seems to suggest its better to buy free food from conventional agroindustry...

I can't tell the figures: there is a whole variety of possibles between ligthly-packaged with recycled products and over-packaged with brand new cardboard from forest devastating firms!

One thing is sure, farming has a huge (17% of all) impact on greenhouse gas effect, compared to packaging that could be a small part of Industrial processes (4%) or Manufacturing (13%) (see Washington Resources Institute 2007:

enter image description here found on this site , but figures I saw later where even greater)

Thus reducing the "agriculture's footprint" seems more important from this point of view too.


The "Environmental Impact Study of Juice" by Questionmark provides some useful information, though it does not deal with organic farming explicitly. Its is worth noting that different production methods in different countries have a huge impact. They use the ReCiPe framework, which is a Dutch national standard for environmental impact assessment. By this measure, juice from Germany has half the impact of similar juice from Poland, because they use less diesel, land and pesticide in Germany.

Packaging is not mentioned in this study, while pesticides are a major factor -- I'm surprised that they don't include packaging. On the other hand, I can't see any information in the WWF link provided about the calculation behind their results. They must be making some rather broad assumptions. For example, they ask whether you you recycle plastic or send it to land fill, but don't ask how much you send to landfill. The choice to ignore packaging in the Dutch report may be due to the fact that, in my limited experience, they use rather low impact packaging compared to the UK.

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