My resolution for 2020 is to have less. Not fewer calories and pounds, per se. Not a smaller waist but less waste.
Specifically, I want to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into, and goes out of, my house and my life. Much of it is completely unnecessary, used solely for the convenience of manufacturers, shippers and warehouses.
There is some validity to the argument that, say, a cardboard box protects against damage to many shipped goods. But it’s usually as much about display as protection. Does a bottle of single-malt Scotch need to come in a decorative box? Does an anodized flashlight need to be packed in a large cardboard and hard plastic shell that requires industrial scissors to open? Good luck if you have arthritic hands.
I ordered this (pictured) shepherd’s crook—a self-massaging device of indestructible plastic—and it arrived from Amazon in a cardboard box almost big enough to ship a bicycle.
I love Costco, but it is a flagrant abuser of over packaging. You’d think when you’re buying in bulk it would mean less overall packaging—three normal containers in one. But no. Costco gives you the three normal containers and then stuffs them all in a cardboard box, like this yogurt package. For good measure, each yogurt container has a metallic, seal under the lid, to be stripped off and tossed away before digging into the contents.
At Christmas, I received Apple TV, a device that basically allows you to watch programs from your computer on your TV. The relatively small device came nestled in a cardboard box, with more cardboard platforms inside and strictly decorative strips of plastic around each of the components and cords. I fired off an email complaint to Apple. No reply.
Apple used to be in the business of photo printing. Each Christmas, I’d order half a dozen calendars of my photos. Within a week, the calendars would arrive, in a single package but with each calendar packed in its own cardboard sleeve. I switched to Costco this year, and each calendar was wrapped in plastic. Sigh.
Until recently, consumers and companies could rationalize that all this excess packaging was recyclable. But the making of every unnecessary cardboard box requires resources and creates emissions. And we’re becoming increasingly aware of the horrors of plastic waste that China and other countries won’t accept from our civilized shores.
What to do? For one, lobby governments at all levels for regulatory changes, which will have a much bigger cumulative impact on things like single-use plastics. But I’m afraid that with excessive packaging, it may take a lot of individual efforts to move the dial.
My personal agenda includes directly contacting manufacturers and retailers. Apple may not reply to my email, but if hundreds or thousands of individuals do the same, they (and other companies) should start taking notice. Second, I’m going to start refusing to buy excessively packaged goods, whenever possible, and letting the retailer know why.
Third, I’ll be looking to reduce my own need for packaging. How? By making my own yogurt and my own popcorn. By buying unwrapped unboxed heads of lettuce. By giving up clamshells of produce.
The list is long, the temptation to shrug and carry on as usual hard to resist. But it has to start somewhere.
“There is an easy-to-understand obsceneness for me in using a bag for 10 minutes, from a store to my home, and the possibility that it will remain on the planet for a thousand years.” NYT columnist Charles Blow
“The only mode of attack is to deal with a heavy decrease in the production of plastics, as opposed to dealing with them after they’ve already been created.” Max Liboiron, Memorial University, Newfoundland