Say No to Excessive Packaging!

One big source of trash for those of us who shop online and mail order is excessive packing materials. Some companies are worse offenders than others, and hopefully this instance cited on Organic Picks is not the norm:

photo: Organic Picks

Yes, the small Pyrex bowl on the left is the purchased item!

As the post points out, we concerned consumers can have an impact on the companies we shop with by praising those with eco-conscious packaging and objecting to practices like the above. This in turn raises the issue of excessive packaging, period. How many times have you been tempted to use a hacksaw to open one of those ridiculous plastic clamshell bubbles in order to free the small item (usually electronics) contained within? Ever wondered why so many food products are packaged in both a plastic bag AND a box (most cereal, for example)? Even those who conscientiously harvest and recycle all the cardboard from these conveyances will be faced with a pile of plastic that can only go in the trash — where it will remain for generations.

Though you wouldn’t know it from a typical shopping experience today, sustainable packaging design is being explored and embraced by many companies. It is currently a work-in-progress with much “greenwashing” in evidence (a “compostable” plastic container that gets thrown in the trash is arguably no different from any other plastic container, as it will not break down in a landfill… only if it is actually composted). But many companies have already voluntarily reduced their packaging and seen dramatic reductions in their shipping and storage costs. Fast Company’s recent article, 50 Ways to Green Your Business cites some dramatic examples:

1 At $100 a ton, feeding a landfill is pricey. But in the past two years, General Mills (NYSE:GIS) has turned its solid waste into profits. Take its oat hulls, a Cheerios by-product. The company used to pay to have them hauled off, but realized they could be burned as fuel. Now customers compete to buy the stuff. In 2006, General Mills recycled 86% of its solid waste, earning more from that than it spent on disposal.

8 Hamburger Helper helps your hamburger … save the planet? This year, General Mills redesigned the packaging of Mom’s old standby, shaving off 20% of the paperboard box without shrinking its tasty contents. The astounding result: 500 fewer distribution trucks on the road each year.

10 Taking the packaging revolution a step further, the liquid-laundry-detergent industry, goaded by Wal-Mart, has cut the size of its bottles by 50% or more by concentrating the liquid to two and sometimes three degrees of magnitude. Unilever‘s triple-concentrated All Small & Mighty detergent has saved 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel, 10 million pounds of plastic resin, and 80 million square feet of cardboard since 2005. This fall, Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) is converting its entire collection of liquids to double concentration.

(The rest of their list is pretty interesting too.)

As consumers, the more we educate ourselves about the consequences of excessive packaging and use our wallets to vote for alternatives, the more manufacturers will be compelled to respond with real solutions. And if the solutions also benefit those companies, well, isn’t that how things should be?

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