I hate unnecessary packaging. It can undo any green cred even a 100 percent-recycled product might have. I find it so frustrating that on my birthday, my boyfriend wrapped his gifts to me in a reusable shopping bag and presented them in a basket woven in Ghana (which was one of my gifts). It was perfect. But we don't usually have that option when we're out and about shopping, so as long as we continue to buy things, it's up to companies to take some responsibility in how they package those things.
The good news is that some finally are. GreenBiz.com recently explored some of the most promising developments, like ultra-concentrated laundry detergent, Amazon's "Frustration-Free Packaging," and an HP laptop that was sold in messenger bags rather than traditional packaging, which cut down on waste by 97 percent.
Sadly, some of the ideas included in the list were one-time experimental projects only—like the HP laptops—or have been discontinued, like a refillable spray bottle that Arm & Hammer made for a year that could be used seven times simply because you bought it empty and used it to mix water with concentrated cleaner that came in a separate, smaller bottle.
One of the more exciting items on the GreenBiz list is a replacement for that annoying clamshell packaging that a lot of electronic accessories come wrapped in—a design that cuts down not only on plastic waste, but on the hassle of opening even the smallest of gadgets.
instead of a big plastic shell around a product, there is instead a smaller plastic case that fits snugly around the product, and paperboard is used to hold the plastic shell closed and secure.
More importantly that the packaging being developed, it's being used throughout Costco andSam's Club, and by companies like Swiss Army, Apple, Microsoft, Kodak, Neutrogena and many more.
There's also a growing attempt to fulfill the cushioning role that styrofoam plays but without actually using the petroleum-based green no-no, such as BioFoam (PDF) or Dell's bamboo packaging. And then, of course, there's the idea of simply cutting down on packaging altogether, like Bayer has done by eliminating some of its boxes, New Belgium by eliminating inserts in its beer packaging, and WalMart is planning to do across its supply chain.
So next time you're shopping for gadgets, shampoo, face lotion—anything—consider what it's packaged in, and try to support companies that use the least packaging possible, and/or are doing the most to incorporate recycled content and green-smart features into the packaging it does use.
Seventh Generation probably uses more recycled content in all of its products and packaging than any other brand, and EcoDiscoveries, for example, is still selling cleaners in the refillable bottles that Arm & Hammer discontinued.
To reduce your own packaging footprint—and to reduce waste from other streams in your life—get creative and find some alternative packaging materials.