Today, the 7th of August is Particularly Preposterous Packaging Day. It sounds ridiculous. But it really highlights a problem we’re facing in making the capitalist world more environmentally friendly. The EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency) claims that ‘containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 80.1 million tons of generation in 2017 (29.9 percent of total generation).’ Of course, quite a lot of this is recycled.
Official UK government statistics are that, in 2017, 70.0% of U.K. packaging waste was either recycled or recovered. The EU target is to recycle or recover at least 60% of packaging waste. So, the U.K. is doing pretty well…but what about that 30%? Does all of it really need to have been produced in the first place?
What’s the day about?
I was scrolling mindlessly through Instagram and saw Breathe magazine, my most favorite magazine ever, had posted something about Particularly Preposterous Packaging Day. Having never heard of the day before, I thought it sounded more than a little…well, preposterous. But it got me thinking about some of the packaging I’d received. Sometimes, products I’ve ordered have been wrapped not once, not twice, but three or four times — and they weren’t breakables, either.
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Despite its alliterative allure, Particularly Preposterous Packaging Day aims to highlight the environmental cost of wasteful packaging, whether it’s pass-the-parcel-style post or a plastic-encased orange at the supermarket. Next time you come across an overzealous example, why not let the company know? You never know, with enough people asking, they may pare their packaging down. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #breathe #breathemagazine #justbreathe #wellbeing #mindfulnessmoment #creativitymatters #escaping #wellnesslifestyle #magazine #magazines #wellnessjourney #ParticularlyPreposterousPackagingDay #zerowastetips #zerowasteuk #sustainablepackaging #maketimeforyourself ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 💚@justbreathemagazine💚
Particularly Preposterous Packaging Day aims to highlight some of the problems with packaging. It’s been used to highlight environmentally-unsustainable packaging and also dangerous packaging; ever ended up with a sprained wrist after frantically twisting a bottle of vitamins, or a sports injury after rugby-tackling your beauty products’ packaging to the floor? I’m all for child-locks, but when an adult human being can’t actually get at the product, you know you’ve got a problem. PPPD day, as we’ll call it from now on (otherwise I’ll get a sprained wrist) aims to call out the companies whose packaging is unsafe, unsustainable, and just downright unnecessary.
What’s the problem?
Firstly, some companies seem to want to give you Matryoshka dolls in the guise of packaging; you race to get to your product as you open numerous packages. It’s like Inception for packaging. Great, now what do I do with all that rubbish?
Secondly, some companies package things that simply don’t need to be packaged. Mother Nature gave the banana skin for a reason. It doesn’t need white plastic wrapping; it’s got a perfectly suitable yellow wrapper!
The Packaging Company has a list of completely useless packaging ideas that you can peruse at your leisure, here.
Only a few days ago I bought a DVD player for my TV. It was a little USB-plug in one, and it was quite small. It was packaged in a box, which was packaged in another big box. What’s the point of that? Environmentally-unsustainable packaging is something that speaks to a wider problem, internationally: Plastics in Packaging note that ‘a July 2020 report by PwC shows 43 per cent of consumers internationally expect businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact’.
Capitalism and packaging
I think a lot of the problem is because we live in a late-stage capitalist society. Most people, buying things online, will use a huge company like Amazon. Which is fine. But a company like that has to keep things standardized, partly for ease of use. I occasionally sell things like vintage clothes on Depop and eBay. I’m just a one-woman operation. Sometimes my boyfriend will help out, but it’s pretty much just me. As a result, I package things in quite novel ways; I mainly re-use the packaging I’ve received. I turn the old packing inside-out and stick a new label on top. The customer is none the wiser, and I’ve cleared out some of my rubbish — without it going to the tip.
This kind of thing requires a kind of innovation that big corporations suppress. You don’t have to be a genius to reuse some old packaging. The problem is that companies like Amazon have standardized packaging. Amazon have so many workers on their factory lines — they can’t tell their employees to bring old packages from home and reuse them. Small businesses can package in creative and radical ways.
While some big businesses can and do package in an environmentally-friendly way, it is often at a cost to them. It is much cheaper to package unsustainably, and the revenue lost on packaging sustainably has to be made-up somewhere.
It’s tricky, sometimes, when big businesses are held to account by governments around health and safety laws, too. Understandably, some foods must be packaged securely — when some are seriously allergic to a food substance that could kill them, it’s important that packing doesn’t compromise the health of the consumer, too.
The Sustainable Packaging Awards
This is where initiatives like The Sustainable Packaging Awards come in. The brain-child of Good Housekeeping Magazine, the Award seeks to congratulate and draw attention to those companies who are going the extra mile. It included looking at the material composition of the packaging, whether it could be recycled curbside, its efficiency, and the protection it offered the product (it’s no use a product being sustainably packaged if it doesn’t protect the product!), innovation (offering extra points for aspects like vegetable or soy-based inks) and even looking at the weight and density of the packaging; lighter materials have less CO2 emissions during production and eventual transportation.
I’ve always been a little skeptical of companies who suddenly become all eco-friendly the moment it becomes fashionable. But the reality is that, in the late-capitalist stage that much of the Western world finds itself in, companies are increasingly pushed to act by the consumer. If consumers say that they won’t stand for something anymore — and take their money elsewhere — then even big corporations start to feel like they ought to change their ways. The consumer can force the hand of the business. Never feel like you’re the underdog; your voice is a droplet in an ocean, sure. But that droplet makes the ocean. The Sustainable Packaging Awards show the importance of highlighting environmentally-sustainable efforts. Their honorable mentions section gets an honorable mention from me — if we hold brands up to sustainable standards, we all benefit. Including the planet.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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