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The Unexpected Impact of Your Favorite Sweet Treats

The Unexpected Impact of Your Favorite Sweet Treats


By: Chloe-Anne Swink

I’m going to let you in on my not-so-secret guilty pleasure. Can you guess what it is? Cookies.

Cookies with coffee for breakfast. Milano cookies are a great, light midday option for cookie snacking. And nothing makes a better dessert than warm chocolate chip cookies or – my favorite – double stuffed Oreos with a glass of almond milk. I’m not exaggerating, I’ll eat cookies with every meal of the day. 

Now, you may be reading that last paragraph and thinking, “There’s nothing unexpected about the negative impact of eating cookies all day on your health.” – but I’m talking about a bigger impact. A global impact. An impact from a packaging perspective.



America’s Favorite Sweet Snack May Hurt More Than Your Health

I’m about 100% certain that I’m not the only one who loves to snack on way too many cookies. This is easy to determine. Walk down the snack aisle at any grocery store in the US and what do you see? Oreos, E.L. Fudge, Chips Ahoy, Famous Amos, Pepperidge Farms, Fig Newtons… I could go on forever! 

There’s countless cookie options in every grocery store simply because they’re in demand. We all love cookies. 

Up until recently, I hadn’t considered the implications of my cookie hoarding habits beyond my personal health. Until one day I opened my pantry and saw – not boxes on boxes of delicious snacks – but plastic, paper, tin foil. The global impact of my favorite sweet treats looked grim from a packaging perspective.



Beloved Snacks are Bombarding our Waterways

Forty percent of all demand for plastic is generated by single-use plastic products. The biggest culprit when it comes to single-use plastics? Food packaging. Our beloved cookies are no exception. 

The problem with single-use plastic products? Most plastic is non-biodegradable. Furthermore, although some single-use plastic products are recycled or incinerated, many single-use plastic items can be notoriously hard to recycle, and the majority land in landfills. Only 9% of all plastic is properly recycled.

When all that single-use plastic packaging lands in landfills or ends up as litter it becomes an environmental hazard. Since most plastic isn’t biodegradable, it slowly begins to break down over time. 

The packaging from our sweet treats eventually turns into microplastics that end up in our oceans, soil, and wildlife.



Do I Have to Stop Eating Packaged Cookies to Save Our Oceans?

I would never ask you to cut out the treats you enjoy or any packaged food for that matter. Yes, there are ways to do your part in minimizing the impact of single-use plastics. But you don’t have to start canning all your own fare to do so. 

Just as some cookies are an absolute party in your mouth and others are just ‘eh’ (I’m looking at you Fig Newtons) – some food packaging takes a light toll on our oceans and others are downright unnecessary. 

In order to help you make informed choices when purchasing sweet treats, I did some snacking… I mean snooping. 

I took a trip to my local grocer and purchased a few of everyone’s favorite packaged cookies. Is your favorite on the list? Is it ocean-approved? Keep reading to find out.



Your Favorite Cookies Weigh In on the Environmental Scale

Here are the cookies I (oh, so begrudgingly) sampled. 

  • An extravagant take on America’s undisputed cookie champion, White Fudge Covered Oreos by Nabisco. 
  • A personal favorite – Milano Raspberry Chocolate flavored cookies by Pepperidge Farms.
  • Another Pepperidge Farms favorite — Pirouette Cream Filled Wafers.
  • The classic Keebler E.L. Fudge Elfwich (double stuffed, by the way).

Let’s take a look at how each of these cookie’s packaging weighs up and breaks down.



White Fudge Covered Oreos: Not Ocean Approved

While the White Fudge Covered Oreos could’ve done worse in the packaging department, they certainly are not the best. 

Snacking Standpoint: 

As a sweet snack, I rate these cookies a 9 out of 10. Borderline unnecessary decadence but undoubtedly delicious. Your classic Oreo blanketed in a thick layer of white fudge is hard not to love. 

Packaging Perspective:

  • Cardboard outer box
  • Thick, single-use plastic tray to house the cookies
  • Single-use plastic wrapper surrounding the tray of cookies

Although the cardboard box was a nice thought, it seems to be in vain. These cookies are still wrapped in a second layer of packaging made from single-use plastic. Not to mention the large plastic tray within the single-use plastic wrap. 

If you’re thinking this can all be recycled you’re right. But let’s not forget that only 9% of all plastics are effectively recycled. Chances are it won’t be.



Milano Raspberry Chocolate Flavored Cookies: Inviting and Less Impactful

When I took a moment to be a conscientious cookie eater I was positively surprised. Milano cookies are light, airy, and low impact compared to some cookie counterparts. 

Snacking Standpoint: 

I highly recommend passing these cookies around to your friends after a good meal or with a cup of joe. The raspberry chocolate combination is far more sophisticated than other cookies I’ve tried. I can imagine eating these cookies at afternoon tea with the queen. 


Packaging Perspective: 

When it comes to packaging, the Milano Raspberry Chocolate Flavored cookies continue to remain sophisticated. 

  • Packaged in a paper bag with a bit of aluminum on the inside.
  • Cookies are housed in cupcake-style paper cups stacked neatly within the bag.
  • No plastic in sight.

If you’re looking for a cookie that has a low impact on our oceans, this is it. The packaging is pleasantly plastic-free. Instead of plastic packaging, Pepperidge Farms opted for biodegradable paper and aluminum. Aluminum is much easier to recycle than plastic. 

My personal favorite thing about these cookies is that I can eat them guilt-free. This is a sweet treat that won’t leave a microplastic trace.



E.L. Fudge Elfwich: This Environmental Impact Isn’t Tree Elf Approved

Here’s another cookie I adore. Regardless, I’ll eat them in moderation now that I’m aware of their impact. 

Snacking Standpoint: 

Keebler E.L. Fudge Elfwich cookies are filled with fudgy goodness. They’re delectable, sweet, and you can’t argue with the double-stuffed variety. We’ve all had them. We all love them. These are a cookie classic.

Packaging Perspective: 

Despite my adoration for these cookies, I’m disappointed by their packaging. While you could argue that they beat the Oreos, their packaging is made 100% of single-use plastic. 

  • A large plastic bag makes up the outer packaging.
  • A large, single-use plastic tray houses each cookie inside the bag.

I’m sad to say when I transitioned to eating packaged snacks with the ocean in mind, these cookies really disappointed me.



Pepperidge Farms Pirouettes: A Packaging Pivot

We’ve seen paper, cardboard, and plastic. Now let’s take a look at another food packaging staple – Aluminum. 

Snacking Standpoint: 

Light, crunchy, and filled with the perfect not-too-sweet mixture of chocolate and hazelnut. Give these wafers a round of applause. Though not the most popular of cookies, I’ve yet to offer one up to a friend who hasn’t fallen in love. My personal favorite touch? The fun cylindrical “pirouette” shape – it’s like munching a magic wand!

Packaging Perspective: 

While the cookies are reminiscent of a magic wand, their packaging is part magic… part plastic. 

  • These cookies come enclosed in a cylinder-shaped aluminum tin.
  • The inside houses a paper layer surrounding the cookies.
  • The cookies themselves are packaged in 2 single-use plastic wrappers per container.

While there are ongoing debates about the atmospheric impact of producing plastic versus aluminum, one thing is clear.

Recycling plastic is more complex, leads to degradation, and has lower reuse rates than aluminum so the metal has been heralded as a greener alternative. Cans have on average 68% recycled content compared to just 3% for plastic in the United States, Environmental Protection Agency data shows.”

Pepperidge Farms made an environmental effort with the use of aluminum in Pirouettes packaging. Although single-use plastic still made an appearance, I’m happy to say its presence was minimal.



Cookies, Wafers, and Waterways: The Verdicts In

Through my own personal research, I’ve come to a verdict. The guilty pleasure I can enjoy with limited waste-related guilt? Milano Raspberry Chocolate Flavored cookies by Pepperidge Farms. 

That’s not to say you can’t enjoy your personal favorites for the sake of our oceans. All I ask is that you do some of your own research. Whether it’s cookies, crackers or another packaged snack try eating with the oceans in mind.

Take a minute to assess the packaging that comes along with your favorite treat. Is this a single-use plastic that will likely end up in a landfill? Is it something you can properly recycle? Better yet, is your favorite snack packaged in something you can reuse? How does your treat look from a packaging perspective?

I reuse my Pepperidge Farm Pirouette canisters as organizers for art supplies! 

Have you found a resourceful way to reuse packaging from your favorite snacks?

We don’t have to cut out the things we love. But if we remain conscious of the impact that’s greater than us we can help cut down on the number of harmful microplastics ending up in our oceans and ecosystems. Cookies belong in our bellies, their packaging doesn’t belong in our marine environments. 

Author Bio: Chloe-Anne Swink is a copywriter for the outdoor industry based in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Her drive to write about stewardship and our human relationship with the great outdoors stems from a deep love of experiencing nature through rock climbing, freediving, and wakeboarding.