Say 'no' to overpackaging

The tiny present wrapped inside a slightly larger box, put into a yet-bigger box, and so on, may be a good joke for a birthday or Christmas – but the packaging of many household goods is almost as bad.

One-third of American garbage is packaging materials, according to the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington.

And there's not necessarily a good reason for it. Many companies are simply following convention and haven't looked into better ways to package their products, says Terry Grist of the EPA.

Overcrowded landfills are not the only problem associated with excessive packaging. Simply manufacturing the packaging uses energy and creates pollutants, says Mr. Grist.

Not only is minimal packaging better for the environment, it also costs less to produce. "Companies can save a lot of money when they reduce packaging," Grist says.

But to keep excessive packaging from clogging landfills, consumers also need to be alert when they buy products. Here are a few ways to reduce packaging waste:

• Avoid snacks and other foods wrapped in individual serving sizes. Instead, buy bigger bags of the snacks and put smaller servings in paper bags.

• Instead of putting a juice box in your child's lunch bag, buy juice concentrate, mix it in a reusable container, and send a thermos with the lunch.

• Make your own "lunchables." Rather than purchasing the prepackaged version, buy a block of cheese, some sandwich meat, and crackers.

• Buy personal hygiene and home-cleaning products in bulk when possible.

• Buy cereal in bags instead of boxes, which usually contain bags inside.

• Buy loose fruits and vegetables instead of those packaged in Styrofoam trays and shrink-wrap. Fix your own fresh-fruit cups instead of buying cut-up fruit in plastic containers.

• Avoid buying products packaged in blister packs (molded plastic attached to cardboard.) Although sometimes blister packs serve a hygienic purpose (making sure cosmetics or medicines aren't tampered with, for instance), they are often unnecessary.

• When you buy clothing in a department store or boutique, ask that the clerk not wrap the garments in tissue paper.

• Ask for loose stamps at the post office instead of prepackaged books.

• Buy concentrates when possible. Many juices, soups, and cleaning agents are available in concentrate.

• Use fewer individual serving-size bottles of water and juices.

• Buy milk and juice in glass or plastic containers, which can be recycled. Some of the waxed cardboard containers with plastic spouts cannot be recycled.

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