As consumers we are constantly buying—whether it’s a morning Starbucks latte or that very necessary late afternoon pick-me-up in the form of a Red Bull. All of the wasteful packaging that goes into products similar to these is hard to ignore, especially at the grocery store where you’ll find individually packaged sweets and containers galore!
Mother Jones magazine notes that Americans throw away 78.5 million tons of packaging each year, adding up to one third of all waste. Between the holidays it adds up to even more. We produce an extra million tons of garbage per week during the holiday season (between Thanksgiving and New Years.)
Some of the worst offenders of wasteful packaging can be found in the grocery store. Take for instance, individually wrapped food. Those bite-sized cheese blocks may be lunch-friendly, but is all the packaging really necessary? These days, everything is conveniently packaged according to smaller portions and serving sizes, which most of the time equals excess plastic.
Plastic bags and bottles are also major offenders, and a few million tons are deposited in U.S. landfills each year. Plastic takes a long time to biodegrade and can threaten wildlife. Luckily, the popularity of using plastic bag alternatives (either cloth or recycled material) is growing. Some cities are even banning or charging money for each bag used in effort to cut down on usage.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition is helping companies get their packaging houses in order by releasing a set of eco packaging metrics to guide companies toward less wasteful packaging. Guidelines deal with material use and waste reduction, toxicity of materials as well as the total life cycle of the packaging.
There are many ways we as consumers can take steps toward reducing wasteful packaging as well. Instead of buying individually wrapped packs for your lunches each day, use Tupperware and reusable packaging. Instead of water bottles bring a reusable water bottle or nalgene around with you. Invest the couple of dollars in a reusable cloth sack to transport groceries in.