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One third of the waste we generate is packaging. What can you do to make a difference? More....

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- by Bet Zimmerman

Packaging serves three purposes – to preserve and protect (from deterioration, spillage, tampering and theft), inform and sell.  Unfortunately, most packaging is a one-way, dead end street, filling up trash cans across the nation.   A whopping 31% of the municipal solid waste we generate is packaging (Source: EPA, 2007).  That includes cardboard, bottles and those hermetically sealed plastic clamshell cases you need a pry bar to open.

Green Box pizza by e.c.o. Inc.

The innovative Green Box pizza packaging was designed by e.c.o., Inc. to be more user friendly, utility oriented and environmentally sound. Photo modified from Green Box image.

At least 28 countries have laws that encourage packaging reduction and recycling.  Some even require manufacturers to take waste packaging back or pay the cost of recycling.  Not so in the U.S.A.  There are recycling regulations here, but recycling uses energy and natural resources too.  There is no regulatory requirement for U.S. companies to ship their products in eco-friendly packaging.  That leaves it up the manufacturer. 

Some of them know that a bigger container can convince consumers they are getting more for their money.  I don’t know about you, but when I open a cereal box and see a big empty space, I feel a bit  cheated.  Nature’s Path, makers of the organic cereal Heritage Flakes, is doing things differently. They figure their customers care about the environment, so they have made an effort to reduce packaging.  They offer the same net weight with 10% less box.  Nature’s Path also sells cereal in 32 ounce “eco pac” bags that use 66% less packaging than boxes.  

Other companies have been changing to more sustainable packaging.  Probably about half do so to save money.  Packaging adds to their production, shipping and waste management costs.  Nature’s Path found that the smaller boxes save about 1300 trees worth of paperboard and 400 truckloads each year. Manufacturers may also be motivated because sustainable packaging supports an eco-friendly marketing campaign.  Amazon’s “anti-wrap rage” campaign works with manufacturers to deliver products in smaller, easier to open, recyclable cardboard.  Wal-mart has also gotten in the game.  In 2006, they established a goal to reduce packaging across their 60,000 suppliers by 5 percent by 2013.   Other companies are going biodegradable, by making packaging out of renewable resources like corn, wheat or potatoes.

Speaking of food, Americans eat an estimated 3.5 billion pizzas each year (Source:  pizza.net).  About 70% of those pies end up in a box.  That’s a lot of pizza boxes.  E.c.o. Inc. has invented a revolutionary pizza vessel called the Green Box.  It is made from 100% recycled and recyclable cardboard.  The top breaks apart into four serving plates.  The bottom folds in half to make a smaller container for lefotvers. It costs the same as a regular pizza box.

Here are a few things you can do as a consumer to help reduce packaging waste.

  • Buy products in bulk or concentrated form.
  • Reuse packaging like boxes for storage or re-shipping.
  • Be a demanding consumer. Write to companies to ask them to use less material, make packaging more reusable and readily recyclable, use more recycled content, and eliminate toxic constituents like heavy metals.
  • Grow your own, or buy fresh fruit, vegetables and grains from local growers. Doug said the pizza paragraph made him hungry, so maybe I’ll make him a homemade, totally boxless version tonight.

References and More Information:


Originally published in the Villager newspapers on November 27, 2009


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