Despite the judgement and stigma behind plastic, it is undeniable that the material itself plays a significant factor in our daily lives and serves a wide range of functions. From being a durable material for a multitude of applications to its cheap production costs resulting in a safer and cleaner one-time use option, plastic is a versatile material that has changed many aspects of our modern lifestyle.
Still, plastic is most often associated with the F&B industry, notably after the rise of COVID-19 and the need to engage in takeout services. Although it is widely known that the use of plastic has created many drastic effects on our environment, we have to explore the strengths that have made the material as prevalent as it is in modern society.
Plastic is a durable material
While plastic is not the strongest material around, it can be said that it is one of the most robust materials for its weight, especially considering its market viability and affordability. This strength allows it to be utilised as an effective insulator for food items against dirt and contamination from the environment. While the usual substitute for plastic containers would be a paper bag, its use dims in comparison to plastic when considering the waterproof factor that plastics have.
Plastics can also take a heavier load when compared to other alternatives and does not degrade in strength when it comes to contact with water or wet foods – something that most food businesses take into crucial consideration when they employ plastic food packaging for their business.
As mentioned above, plastic is unique as a material because of its strength to weight ratio. The lightweight of plastic makes it highly convenient as a packaging material, protecting the intended goods without adding much bulk or weight. Not only does it make it convenient, but it is also of a highly practical weight for the cost of businesses when transferring or transporting food items. It can also be easily moulded into a form that allows for ease of transport, at times acting like a thin second skin (plastic bags or wrapping) that retains the shape of the original item itself.
Plastic as a sustainable resource
Surprisingly, plastics have an excellent profile for sustainability – regarded as environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. Plastics have immensely positively contributed to the environment with the material’s energy-saving manufacturing process and recyclability options. Most plastics originally come from the feedstock of crude oil and natural gases, often a waste product that was discarded cheaply. Giving such a material a chance of use and life has resulted in the utility of a once disregarded material.
The only downside is the lack of return or recycled viability due to the public mindset, and the mentality of reuse and recycling could benefit this material greatly.
Plastic containers provide safety and security
Be it the safeguarding of food against contamination or slowing down the decay of a food item, plastic is a crucial material considering that its surface does not make it susceptible to bacterial growth, nor does it allow for foreign objects to easily breach the protected food within. While food is still prone to degradation in its natural process, that is more so the time before consumption and that the plastic food packaging would have served its intended purpose already.
Plastic packaging has proven to be an invaluable resource in today's fast-paced environment. It does not require a lot of energy, and manufacturing is rapid and straightforward. On top of its low price, saving money on transportation and granting convenience during the transportation process due to its lightweight when compared to other materials.
While we are all too aware of its downsides, let us look at it from a balanced perspective, understanding how we can employ its strength while minimising its flaws to fully utilise the once (and still is) wonder material of the 21st century.