A Rant about Packaging

A few weeks ago I went to buy a simple torch from the supermarket. It wasn’t until I got the thing home that I realised how overpackaged it was. The torch was attached to a large, hard plastic backing – by three rings of plastic (as shown in the pic above). It also came with a completely superfluous hessian holder that can be attached to a belt.

Is there anything more irritating than the overuse of packaging in consumer goods? In the absence of effective regulation, packaging is wasteful in the extreme. How many acres of forests are lost each year, how much superfluous hard and soft plastic is produced in order to make run-of-the-mill goods seem exciting and sexy?

The Australian Conservation Foundation wants the Australian Government to set up a federal agency with powers to ensure that packaging is ‘kept to the minimum required for the preservation, labelling, safe handling, and economical usage of goods’. This is a great idea, but such a body would also need to require manufacturers to choose the most sustainable options for their (minimalist) packaging.

The government could offer assistance that made it financially viable for companies to do this. This would have the flow-on effect of encouraging companies to produce environmentally responsible packaging materials - fostering innovation and new green industries and jobs, possibly selling to global markets.

Manufacturers view packaging as being vital to their branding – the ideas and emotions they want consumers to associate with their product. Yet if they were forced to reduce it, they might think up more imaginative ways of appealing to their customers – indeed, a reduction in packaging would actually appeal to many customers anyway, contributing to a green image that had some substance to it.

New uses for old packaging

Another item I’ve been looking for is a sustainable pencil case – I looked on Etsy and the Australian version of Etsy, Handmade – and found some lovely examples, such as this cute knitted pencil case.

But then I decided I didn’t really need to buy a pencil case at all, because I just used a plastic holder that had inexplicably arrived with a recycled toothbrush I ordered over the internet (pictured below). What was the use of producing a toothbrush from recycled plastic, I asked the manufacturer at the time in an email, when it is accompanied by unnecessary packaging? So I have at last found a use for this plastic container, which I couldn’t bring myself to throw away at the time. (Another option would have been to use a wallet from an op shop.)

Plastic recycling has come a long way, but manufacturers seem to be using this as an excuse to keep producing more of it – in its produce section, Woolworths now provides small plastic bags that are a pleasing grass-green hue with the comforting message that they are produced from ‘at least 30 per cent recycled plastic’. Why don’t they encourage customers to bring their own mini-plastic bags for fruit, vegetables and nuts?

Wikipedia describes greenwashing as ‘a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation’s products, aims and/or policies are environmentally friendly’. Superfluous packaging often appears in examples of greenwashing. For example, Scotch tape has produced what it cannily calls (perhaps to avoid accusations of greenwashing) a ‘greener’ rather than a ‘green’ tape. But this greener tape comes with its very own mini plastic dispenser, encouraging buyers to purchase a new dispenser every time they buy tape.

I don’t want to discourage readers from trying to buy green. I originally planned to write a blog entry on green stationery items for kids going back to school. It is worth shopping around for more eco-friendly items from online stores such as BuyEcoGreen, and Officeworks now stocks many more green stationery options that it used to. But until we have tough Australia-wide laws on packaging, the waste-a-thon of cardboard and plastic production will continue.

If you enjoyed this article, pleas share using the social media buttons on the left.

No comments :