Plant Leaves: Packaging for Environmental Sustainability

Sylvia Okedi

As a result of the global warming effects on the biodiversity induced by human activities, it has become mandatory for some countries of the world to come together to device a means to sustain the environment for posterity under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).

Food packaging being an essential part of food technology is involved in the protection and preservation of all types of food using non-biodegradable packaging like plastic which may need hundreds and thousands of years to decompose.

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The present world innovations have provided us with varieties of ways to package our food in a more safe, hygienic and shelf-stable condition. It is quite alarming that most food packaging is modelled to be a single-use and it is not recycled or reused instead, such packaging is disposed and often times litters our water bodies. So much food packaging, especially plastics, has ended up in waterways which the United Nations Has declared the plastic pollution of ocean “a planetary crisis.”

While it may be hard to opt for a more eco-friendly means of packaging our food to sustain the environment and its habitats, a twitter handler, Citizen Kay @Izaq-kwasi on 26th of February, 2021 took to his Twitter handle and tweeted that “we should normalize the use of leaf packaging to reduce the impact of plastic on our environment.” The tweet got majority of the people commenting on how backward and unhygienic the initiative is and how it will rather contribute through deforestation, the existing damages caused by anthropogenic activities mented on the environment and its species. However, some comments applauded such creativity of making a safer means of packaging than the plastic.

Though, the plastic packaging is more preferable because of sanitation or hygiene purpose, it is not devoid of its health implications on human beings and animals. The chemical component of plastic can leach in our food, that’s Bisphenol A (BPA); a hormone distrupting chemical often used to line canned foods. Study shows that, BPA may adversely affect the brain and prostate glands in foetuses, infants, and children. The accumulation of the chemical contaminates body tissues and fluids, can cause cancer, birth defect and endocrine distruption. In addition, these plastics are littered in oceans, causing aquatic habitats like turtle, fish and others to ingest them, thereby resulting to their extinction.

On the other hand, to repackage the future, it is vital that we look out for a sustainable and eco-friendly option by going back to the future where 100 of years ago, our forefathers found in nature, a good way of packaging such as the basket, shells, gourd and leaves for food packaging, hence the need to embrace the plant leave (banana, plantain, etc) packaging to reduce the impact of plastic on the environment like the Asians and some part of Nigeria who use leaves to package Ofada rice, eko (pap), moi moi and other foods.

The food packaged in leaves gives an enjoyable and different taste. Banana or plantain leaves may contain some pathogens, it can be washed with salt or vinegar in water to decontaminate it. Most importantly, the banana leaf is an antioxidant (Polyphenol) which is reported to fight cancer and parkinson’s disease, no risk of toxicity of chemical as a result of heat, storage or processing like plastic, it doesn’t take too long to decompose, hence, it can add nutrient to the soil through microorganisms reaction.

To ensure we have abundance of plant leaves, there is need for serious government intervention.

Government should sensitize the people on the need to switch from plastic and nylon to leaves while those who are already in the system should be well equipped.

Students at every level in school should be taught the importance of and how to plant and grow such plant leaves for a sustainable future.

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