Make Smart Choices About Packaging
Have you noticed how much packaging goes into our products these days? Everything seems hermedically sealed, tied to a cardboard backdrop with plastic-coated wire, wrapped in hard plastic, or placed in a box with a plastic window. If you order online, it is then put into a box with styrofoam packing peanuts or those damn blow-up plastic arm-floaty-looking things before it's shipped. Grrr. Where does all this go? Do you recycle every bit of it? Odds are you can't and even if you could, most people don't.
Well it's time for me to start thinking about all that packaging and make smart consumer decisions. I'm going to go back to my REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE mantra and add another item to the list: DOWNCYCLE - Recycle inorganic materials in single-use applications (like recycled paper into tissue paper; recycled plastic shampoo bottles into park benches).
So the next time I go shopping I'm going to examine the products I buy and try to, in this order, look for products with packaging that I can: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle or Downcycle. Need examples? Me too.
- REDUCE - I'm thinking produce here. Do I really need to put my apples into a plastic bag just for the ride home where I'll take them out and put them in the fruit bowl? NO! Let those babies free range in the grocery cart! If you're afraid all your yummy produce will get squashed, then grab one of those carry-baskets they have (the ones you use when you're only getting a couple items) and put all your produce in there. Of course, this may be a bad example, if you're already following my previous post about buying local food :-)
- REUSE - Who doesn't love the bulk bins at the grocery store!?!?!?! Chocolate covered pretzels, are you kidding me?!?!? Trail mix? Peanuts? Yummy! All great stuff! Hard to let it free range though, cuz most of it tends to fall through the holes in your cart. No one says you can't bring your own containers or paper bags, though. Even if you have to use their plastic bags, just so long as you keep reusing the same ones! In fact, you can use a Sharpie Marker to label each one with the name and "code" of the store to make your shopping trip easier and quicker! Another great example of Reuse is milk containers. I recently switched to buying milk in the old glass containers because they are returned, sanitized and reused again, without even having to be melt down or anything.
- RECYCLE - Think ketchup here. or peanut butter. or jelly. These items are generally available in plastic or glass containers. The plastic ones are usually types 1 or 2, so, yes, they can most likely go in your recycle bin. HOWEVER, they are more likely going to be DOWNCYCLED into carpet, whereas the glass container can be turned into a brand new glass container with little or no virgin material added. That's much more effective and efficient and it is true recycling. So, when given an option like this, go for glass.
- DOWNCYCLE - OK, I'll admit, I'm no EnviroWoman, I'm your average American slob. I just can't seem to avoid plastic. I need shampoo. I need toothpaste. I need facewash and razors and applejuice and cremora and deodarant and, well, you get the idea. Here's where shopping gets tricky. First - know what your local recycling place will take. Then make your purchases based on that information. For example, my local recycling plant will take #1 & #2, but nothing else. So, if I have the choice between two products, one packaged in #2 plastic and one packaged in #5 plastic, I'm going to choose the #2.
Of course, if there's something that you LOVE that doesn't fit into any of these categories, contact the manufacuturer! They all have a number on the side of their packages for questions and comments -- use it! Tell the manufacturer you would like to keep purchasing their product, but their lack of environmentally-friendly packaging is really turning you off. I think I remember from marketing class that every comment/letter recieved by a company usually represents some crazy number of people (like 1,000) so they really do pay attention to what you say.
This is another one that is hard to quantify. I guess I'll need to keep an eye on the amount of trash I generate to see if it is reduced even further. I'm sure it will be. My goal is to eventually be down to only one 13 gallon trash bag per week and I know paying attention to packaging will help.
Difficulty Level - 3 out of 5
Not as hard as stopping junk mail (I'm thinking of reassigning that one a difficulty level 6 out of 5) but not easy either, especially when you have two little ones fighting in the cart while you're looking at the bottom of containers for plastic codes. If you can shop alone and plan on spending extra time at the store that would help a lot. Also, once I switch to a different product, I won't have to research that item again. So this won't have an ongoing difficulty level of 3 -- it'll drop to a 1 or 2 once all my household stuff is set.