A reporter's week as a trash-free warrior
A reporter investigates what it takes to forsake a trashy lifestyle
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I did some research: Guys on Wall Street use the packaging industry to forecast ups and downs in the economy. Manufacturers can increase product sales simply by adding a little sticker here, an ergonomic ribbed handle there. Package designs are updated, on average, every two to three years. And I had no idea that it was possible to get a bachelor of science in packaging (course requirements typically include engineering and economics).Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. DeLana told me that cosmetics companies were the first to really understand the power of good packaging. Fossil and Swatch in the early '80s were quick to follow, with cool watch cases that were designed to be commodities themselves. Since then, many others have figured out that packaging is a key part of a marketing amd branding strategy. Lately, some experts pointed out, even fresh produce is benefiting. Without packaging, Tropicana oranges might have just as well been grown in my neighbor's backyard.
I hadn't ever really thought about it.
I needed to restock on cereal and yogurt, so I returned to the supermarket this time with the intention of buying.
I discovered EcoPac a brand offering cereal in bags, with this advertisement: "Save 66 percent of the packaging." I was ready to load up my basket, but then I studied my choices more closely: "Heritage O's," "Millet's Rice," and "Meson Sunrise" all of which looked quite wan and lifeless through the clear plastic. Only a few inches away: "Banana Gone Nuts," "Maple Pecan Crisp," and "Cocoa Bumpers," in traditional cardboard garb, with brightly colored drawings meant to suggest bursts of flavor. They did.
So I checked prices: EcoPac bags are $6.99 for 32 ounces, a better value for your money, but then again a large investment considering I'd never tried them. In the end, I walked away with a box of "Maple Pecan Crisp," chastened by my lack of willpower.
I also picked up three containers of serving-size fruit-flavored yogurt (the larger containers didn't come in fruit flavors), some asparagus (unbagged), four bananas (unbagged) and a carton of orange juice.
Halfway home, I realized a can of frozen orange juice would have been less packaging, less space in my fridge, more for my dollar. It was the first of a string of lapses.
I left my new, ecologically chic, blue-tinted, refillable 14-ounce water bottle from EMS on my desk as I headed out to lunch.
At the deli, I compounded my mistake by ordering chili, which came over the counter in a double cardboard bowl. But for the cold stare of the cashier, I may have considered handing one of the bowls back.
I gulped down my lunch, trying not to let the glistening water bottles in the refrigerator nearby seduce me. But the chili was extra spicy, and I ultimately succumbed to its sting. I allowed myself a glass bottle of pink lemonade and vowed to peel off the label later and use it as a bud vase.
If some environmentalists had their way, the burden of reducing packaging waste would shift from taxpayer to producer rendering my lapses and insecurities about conspicuous waste-saving almost irrelevant.
At least 28 countries have laws to encourage manufacturers to reduce packaging. Under "Extended Producer Responsibility," as it's known, industry associations are responsible for recycling waste from their products, so they place fees on manufacturers to discourage excessive packaging. Germany was the first to pass such a law in 1991, and three years later, the entire European Union followed suit.