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The Dark Side of Buying Non-Sustainable and Non-Ethical Food Service Packaging Overseas

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There’s something to be said about buying from a local vendor at a farmer’s market. It’s supporting the local economy, local families and allowing them to reach their goals – like sending their kids to a post-secondary school. This same principle applies when food business owners purchase their packing from an ethically and sustainably-conscious provider that is located in North America.

“But, shopping overseas is so much cheaper” and that is true! However, how they are able to charge a lower price sometimes hides a dark reality. In some occasions, there is a negative impact to both the environment and human life due to lack of regulations.

Do people know where their overseas packaging manufacturer is sourcing their materials? Even if they comply with regulations, where are the trees used to make paper from? They may not be sustainably sourced or ethically produced labour wise. Do they know how much manufacturers, suppliers and vendors pay their employees (or if they pay their employees at all)? What do the work conditions look like? Do they employ children?

In this blog entry, we’ll be exploring the dark side of buying non-sustainable and non-ethical foodservice packaging from overseas markets.

Disclaimer: Not every overseas packaging supplier is partaking in illegal and unethical practices. It is the business owner’s responsibility to do the research and make an ethical choice.

What is the environmental impact of supporting non-sustainable food service packaging manufacturers overseas?

In some cases, overseas manufacturers are receiving their materials from companies that take part in unethical practices like illegal clear-cutting. While clear-cutting is common practice amongst sustainable tree farmers and loggers, trees are systematically harvested in a controlled and contained environment. Typically, new trees are planted and the cycle is repeated. Sustainability and avoiding loss of habitat is high on their agenda. Illegal clear-cutting, on the other hand, often involves the deforestation of important ancient forests that play a big role in not only its local ecosystem but the global ecosystem as well.

Forests cover thirty-one percent of the Earth’s surface and as that number slowly dwindles, so does the natural resources that are taken for granted. Illegal clear-cutting is devastating for forest ecosystems. It contributes to global warming, drought, habitat destruction, and a dramatic loss of biodiversity.


Global warming

Ancient forests hold a large amount of carbon. When clear-cutting occurs, that carbon is released in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Did you know that deforestation makes up 25% of the world’s carbon emissions?


As soon as a forest is cut down, miles upon miles of root system deteriorate. Without this mass root system, the ground is no longer able to hold soil and water. This can cause droughts, floods and land erosion.

Habitat destruction

Millions of animals call forests their home. These forests provide the shelter and food they need to sustain themselves. Once the area is clear-cut, animals cannot survive in that environment. As the animal population slowly dies off, the remainder of the populous moves to a small area where resources are scarce and competition is high.

Loss of biodiversity

As the forests disappear, naturally animals and plant life follow suit. Certain species need very specific living conditions to survive and flourish. Without the forests they call home and limited food supply, various populations dwindle in size and sometimes become extinct. It takes an average of 100 years for a forest to become what it once was. Deforestation is a prime culprit for extinction in the modern world.

Source: Earth Roots

In addition to those detriments, the carbon footprint produced by shipping the products alone is astronomical. The emissions left by boats, planes and trains are much higher than if you were to choose a local packaging company.

Additionally, what happens to manufacture waste? Many overseas providers are not held accountable by a governing body of regulations, meaning they can dump toxic waste into oceans, use whichever chemicals they see fit etc without any negative repercussions.

What is the human impact of supporting unethical food service packaging manufacturers overseas?

In some countries, labourers face exploitative and horrendous working conditions. On top of working in hazardous conditions, workers do not have basic rights like sick leave, maternity leave, fair pay, and humane work hours as reported in a new report by the International Trade Union Confederation. Workers are sometimes exposed to toxic chemicals, dangerous machinery, abusive management, are overworked and are subject to malnutrition which all contribute to long-term health problems. Horrendously, this isn’t just the reality of adults – but children as well.

Children, or child-labour, often pay a high price for working so young. Normally, these child workers are as young as six or seven years old and work up to 12 to 16 hours a day. These jobs are monotonous, strenuous, low-paid and sometimes unpaid. In some cases, children work under the threat of violence and intimidation or are subject to sexual exploitation.

Unfortunately, employing or forcing children to work at such a young age does not allow them to attend school, play with their friends and to develop normally both physically and mentally.


Make the ethical purchasing choice.

Unbeknownst to many people, they might be indirectly supporting everything that is associated with a cheap food service packaging overseas purchase – including the exploitation of the environment and the workers.

On the positive side, there are hundreds of North American companies that take part in regulated programs like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative®  or have a social responsibility to making sure their working conditions are suitable for their workers (and they don’t employ children). Though business owners may be spending more money than with an overseas supplier, they’re making the conscious effort to support the Earth’s longevity, worker welfare, local families and communities, and, most importantly, they’re helping to make the world a better place.

Many clients and customers care about where their food service products are coming from and are becoming increasingly aware of this type of decision making. Providing ethical sustainably sourced and produced packaging benefit their business in more ways than one. Browse our selection of Sustainable Forestry Initiative® certified, high quality ethically sourced foodservice packaging products here or if you want to learn about what other steps Stanpac Inc. is taking to make more of an effort to be better, give us a call at 905.957.3326.


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