Picking through packaging problems


Perhaps it all started when cassette tapes became the latest fad in music. My strongest memories of cassettes are associated with feelings of being morally assaulted by the completely unnecessary amount of packaging used to display and sell them. Smaller than a deck of cards, cassettes came with enough cardboard and plastic to make them seem four or five times larger than they actually were. The idea behind this clunky packaging was to deter theft of such an otherwise easily pocketable item. Unfortunately, however, cassette tape retailing set us on a path of wasteful packaging that we continue to struggle with today.

Some 50 years later, our landfills are choking with unnecessary packaging. This comes at a great cost to the planet as well as to taxpayers. Packaging materials use up valuable natural resources and cause pollution both in their production and as waste material. As boxes upon boxes of goods purchased online are shipped across vast distances, packaging materials become more and more of a problem. Municipalities have had to come up with recycling centres and complex systems to deal with this heavy load of materials management. If ever there was a good example of “throwing good money after bad”, all the myriad ways that we must deal with unnecessary packaging is it.

And, to what end? To the end of big corporations, of course! First, they want consumers to buy their products instead of their competitions’. Second, they want to ensure their products ship to buyers in good condition. Third, they don’t want their products to be easy targets for theft from retail shelves. Finally, let’s not forget that a corporation’s chosen packaging can help create a deep emotional attachment to their brand.

As for me, I am most emotionally attached to any brand that can show me just how little packaging they use. Like the modest small cardboard container that my old Apple laptop came in. No styrofoam, no foamy “peanuts,” and no plastic bubble wrap were used to protect my valuable electronics. All that kept my new computer free from damage was old-fashioned air. Yes, air. And it was all made possible by excellence in packaging design. Sigh.

Why then, when I needed to replace a non-functioning USB wire for my laptop, did Apple’s replacement have to come in a wasteful box? It’s not like a little wire needs a lot of protection. A simple twist tie to keep it neatly wrapped would suffice. The box, then, is not for my benefit; it’s for the benefit of the company, providing an opportunity for Apple to splash its brand around in eye-catching displays. Sigh.

When packaging is absolutely required for protection I very much appreciate the use of recycled materials. However, after having recently received in the mail an order of two small bottles of vitamin-type products, I was appalled at the overkill of packaging materials used—even though all materials were, to quote, “100 per cent recycled, reusable, and recyclable.” Really, did two small bottles of pills have to come in a box large enough for a pair of hiking boots? And did those two bottles need to be put in separate padded envelopes, which were then placed in a bed of specialty packing paper used to fill up the rest of the box? I think not.

The irony of how this delivery of health supplements made me feel physically ill isn’t lost on me. I need to find a better solution when it comes time to restock as I don’t want to feel like that again. Consuming based on a company’s packaging practices as well as a product’s reputation—now that’s in our best interest.

For more in your best interest, follow Sheelagh @sheesays or visit www.ideagarden.net.


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