Case #691
Title: New Tactics for More Earth-Friendly Packaging
Summary: Packaging serves as an easy symbol for a world bursting at the seams. About one-third of the gross weight and half of the volume of America's municipal solid waste stream is packaging material - at least 300 pounds per person per year. (This figure probably does not include the 400 million virgin wood transportation pallets that are used once or twice then sent to landfills-enough material to frame an estimated 300,000 houses.) Despite widespread attention to the consequences of packaging, packaging remains in a growth phase. A tendency toward over-packaging is inextricably ingrained in our culture and psyches.

Two methods of analyzing this trend toward over-packaging are worth noting. (1) LCA: Over the past decade, some researchers have sought to bring to light all the details of a packaging material's "hidden life" through a technique called Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) - untangling intricate flows of energy, raw materials, pollution, transportation, and other factors, in hopes of accounting for all the environmental and social costs of producing a particular product. The narrow materials perspectives of LCAs are probably best combined with analyses showing how particular products and packages fit into broader economic and social systems. (2) Systems Approach: A systems approach would include (but not be limited to) the life cycle of the package; the manufacturing and distribution system it requires; the geographic and political arenas in which it functions; and the actual product that it is packaging. A systems approach includes the three Rs, but also stresses developing whole new ways (or reintroducing old ones) of consuming, producing, distributing, reusing, and reprocessing products and materials to actually address the complex situations we face.

A great variety of alternative perspectives and approaches must be - and are being - tried. Some of the most promising include: (1) Extended producer responsibility (EPR) and Product Take-Back Laws (2) Third Party Certification Organizations and Eco-Labels (3) Source Reduction: Lightweighting, Dematerialization, Design for ReUse (4) New Materials (bioplastics and edible plastics) (5) Closing local resource loops (mini-paper mills (5) New designs for packages (6) Biomimicry (7) Changing Consumers' Habits.

Practical Pointers for what an individual can do to ease the pressure on materials and processes used for packing include: (1) Consume less (2) Become a (local) villager (3) Buy in greater bulk (4) Reduce holiday packaging (5) Take in or carry in a mug (6) Reduce manufacturing energy use, water pollution and use, air pollution, and solid waste overage by using glass or ceramic containers in place of disposable ones (7) Work for Zero Waste Legislation
Comments: THE STRATEGY: Look at product packaging with new ideas rather than continue the resource intense and heavy marketing tool approach that is the prevalent model today. Please see the Full Text and bibliography following it for more specifics and ideas. Please pay special attention to Sections Two (Trends in Packaging Reform) and Three (What You Can Do) of this very detailed and scholarly article.
Location: USA
Action: Environment, Resources
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: National
Categories: Environment, Resources
Year(s): 2005
Outcome in progress
Source: Whole Earth, Winter, 2002, p. 9
Contacts: Roberto Carra, and various specific contacts listed
at the end. The article also includes an end bibliography.
Prepared By: sl, 11/05
Rating: 1