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The Green Life: Recycled Food Packaging: Good for Earth, Bad for Health?

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April 14, 2011

Recycled Food Packaging: Good for Earth, Bad for Health?

Cereal We know that, generally, buying in bulk is the greenest and most economical option, but could it also be the safest? That might be the case (no pun intended), considering that packaging has of late been posing a health risk: The BBC reported that mineral oils from the inks on recycled packaging are contaminating foods like pasta, rice, and cereal that are sold in cartons made from recycled cardboard. The effects of ingesting mineral oil are linked to cancer and chronic inflammation of internal organs.

The exposure would have to occur over a number of years, furthers Dr. Koni Grob, who's been spearheading the research at a food-safety lab in Zurich. According to Grob and his Swiss researchers) who last year tested 119 such products and found that only 30 were free of mineral oils), the longer a product is on the shelves, the more mineral oil it’s likely to absorb. Most shocking is that for the remaining 89 products, mineral-oil level exceeded the healthy limit (.06 mg per kilogram), with the majority exceeding that limit tenfold. Researchers were quoted in one scientific magazine describing the situation as "frightening."

So while recycled materials are almost always the best option for the planet because they preserve virgin materials and help curb emissions, we should be asking whether they’re the best option for packaging our food.

For now, companies like Kellogg's and Weetabix that use 100% recycled cardboard are taking steps to mitigate the amount of mineral oil in their packaging. One British cereal company, Jordans, has opted to phase out recycled packaging for now.

--Sarah McClure

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