Whether you want to have an option for customers to bag their own food or you need bags for packaging produce or restaurant food, there are many options to choose from. One of your main considerations may be how environmentally friendly the materials used to make bags are. Here's a quick guide to the four most popular food-grade and produce bags, which are all made from polyolefin plastics, and how "green" they are.
1. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE is often used for heavier plastic bags and is approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for storing food. The bags are usually not very easy to see through but are otherwise great for holding a variety of foods of different temperatures. They don't have any odor and they don't give food any funny taste.
When you see recycling symbols on various types of plastics, they usually have a number inside the symbol. HDPE is type 2 and it is completely recyclable, making it very environmentally friendly in that regard. However, if HDPE is not recycled, it does not degrade in the environment. Polyolefins that are left in nature contribute to overheating of the soil and harm to wildlife marine life. Make sure your bags are made from as high a percentage of recyclables as possible and encourage users to recycle as well.
For minimum environmental impact, look for HDPE bags that are made from syngas or other biomass products instead of petroleum products.
2. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
LDPE is probably the most common material for food storage and produce bags. Like HDPE, this type of plastic is approved by the FDA and USDA, but it is not as strong -- or as expensive. LDPE is also a more clear plastic than HDPE, so it is easier to see through it, but it doesn't hold up as well. Consider LDPE bags for one-time uses or temporary storage of bulk items or fruits and vegetables.
Recycling LDPE bags is also highly encouraged; they are a No. 4. Some LDPE bags are made from sugar beet, a renewable resource, rather than petroleum, and are more environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, LDPE is not biodegradable and is one of the least recycled plastics because more people throw away thin plastic bags than reuse or recycle.
3. Linear Low Density Polyethylene (LLDPE)
The major difference between LDPE and LLDPE plastics is that the latter can be made thinner but with comparable strength. This means less plastic is needed and the cost may be less. If you're looking for the most environmentally friendly option for a thin food or produce bag, LLDPE is probably your best bet.
4. Polypropylene (PP)
Polypropylene is a very clear plastic that doesn't breathe -- in other words, it doesn't let any air in or out. This is preferable for some types of foods like candy and nuts, but may not be the best choice for fruits and vegetables.
PP bags are FDA and USDA approved for use with food, and they're ideal for heat sealing because they have a high melting point. PP is recyclable plastic no. 5, and can be reused or recycled multiple times. PP also consumes less energy than other types of polyolefins during the production process, and degrades slightly more easily than HDPE or LDPE.
All these types of plastics could make good food or produce bags, but there are environmental pros and cons for each. Talk to your manufacturer for more information on what goes into making each type of bag and how you can order more environmentally friendly options.
To learn more, contact a company like KNF Corporation.