We have memorized what the three R’s mean and what the chasing arrows represent—Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle—and we are used to seeing the ubiquitous symbol designed by a student in 1970 for a contest sponsored by a cardboard box manufacturer. Now is the time, however, to add a few more R’s: Responsibility, Realization, and Reaction. Green packaging solutions must continue to be researched, tested, and put into practice. Astounding statistics show that roughly half of solid waste produced annually in our nation comes from packaging materials. It is imperative that the global human community reduce consumption to protect our good earth and keep it safe, healthy, clean, and green for our children, the future’s children, and all living plants and animals with whom we share this remarkably precious planet.
Green packaging solutions are everyone's responsibility, producers and consumers alike. Manufacturing and packaging facilities and ownerships are ethically obligated to research and implement packaging reduction plans, create only products that can be recycled, and use recycled materials whenever possible during the manufacturing process instead of raw natural resources. When excessive packaging is reduced, consumers’ responsibility to pay for it, and dispose of it, is also reduced. Happier consumers equal happier producers equal a happier planet—more chasing arrows.
Realizing the need for green packaging solutions, consumers are just as responsible and can do a great deal at home and at the market to encourage and effect change at the production level. The smartest, most cost-effective method is to buy in bulk. Although some product packaging is important for safety and health reasons, to deter theft, and to prolong the shelf life of certain products, many items can be purchased in bulk quantities to reduce the amount of waste and save money. Instead of six 6-oz. containers of yogurt, for example, a larger 32-oz. container will cost less and create less waste. Larger containers, once emptied, can be repeatedly cleaned and reused for other types of liquid or dry storage. Several health food stores allow and even encourage customers to bring their own containers from home to fill, often at discounted prices. The same is now true for many coffee shops when customers bring their own refillable mugs. And everyone by now should be using refillable water containers instead of buying throwaway bottled water.
Instead of buying prepackaged meats and cheeses, the deli section at most stores will slice these to order and wrap them minimally in thin waxed or butcher paper. The products will be fresher, the paper wrapping is more eco-friendly, and the consumer does not pay for unnecessary plastic packaging. Most meats and cheeses freeze well and can be divided and stored at home in reusable containers. Consumers can also save money, reduce waste, and eat healthier by purchasing fresh produce instead of canned or frozen products, bringing mesh or cloth bags from home instead of using several little plastic bags the store provides, and avoiding produce wrapped in plastic on foam trays. Loose produce can still be weighed easily at the check-out station. Buying larger quantities also saves repeated trips to the store, thus reducing the cost of fossil fuel usage and the amount CO2 emissions.
Statistics show that one million plastic shopping bags are used per minute, and about 16,000 are distributed daily. Although a plastic bag only takes second to manufacture, it requires 100 to 400 years to degrade. Green packaging solutions include avoiding acceptance of these at the store, using personal, reusable, washable totes, or opting for paper if given a choice. When plastic bags are accumulated, however, they should be saved and re-purposed. A good compacting container is a gallon-sized milk jug with a hole cut in the side; it is amazing how many can be stuffed into such a small space and handy to pull one out as needed.
One of the best green packaging solutions is the voice of the consumer. Reacting to irresponsible manufacturers with letters, phone calls and boycotts can make a huge difference. Reacting by changing lifestyle and buying habits can dramatically reduce the amount of packaging waste and save money as well. Conscientious, diligent effort on everyone’s part, consumers and producers, to curb this tide will directly contribute to the health, wealth and longevity of planet earth.