The first time I wanted to order at Amazon I waited until I had 5 items I needed. I could have saved myself the trouble because these items were delivered on several days by 4 different deliverers. And the amount of plastic I had to throw away afterward was HUGE.
Instead of complaining, being wiser after some eye-opening conversations I had with businesses about customer service, I decided on my own strategy to reduce packaging: “I used my feet” and searched for more environmentally aware shops.
Don’t you love that expression? I heard it years ago at a marketing seminar: “Customers are not without power, they can use their feet and go somewhere else, and you’ll lose business to somebody else. Moreover, your image is damaged.”
I have made it a habit to not only complain about the way things are, yet actively investigate what I can change myself. Feeling in control is a much better sentiment than feeling powerless.
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Table of contents
- 1 Responsibility for all aspects
- 2 Reduce packaging
- 3 What can we do ourselves to reduce all that waste?
- 3.1 #1 Avoid prepackaged foods
- 3.2 #2 Choose retailers who use reusable or recyclable materials for packaging
- 3.3 #3 Buy in bulk
- 3.4 #4 Reuse packaging products
- 3.5 #5 Buy unpackaged fruits and vegetables
- 3.6 #6 Second-Hand goods
- 3.7 #7 Barter and/or trade items
- 3.8 #8 Choose the brand with the least packaging
- 3.9 #9 Look for deposit-return packages
- 4 Make it easy for consumers
Responsibility for all aspects
There was a time I had to send out goods as well. As a graphic designer, I had to deliver books and stationery to my clients or let my printer take care of it. And as a ceramicist, I sent clay objects to customers or I had to transport them to the exhibition spaces.
So I do have an idea about the troubles a sender has when goods have to be shipped. You want them to arrive in one piece and undamaged.
Yet, as a designer, I also saw the challenge in doing that in a responsible way. That’s not just a burden, it’s also a creative task.
Isn’t it amazing how much packaging it takes to ship something? When something is packed in a box, it often also has shrink-wrap. And something to fill the empty space between the box and the item which can either be bubbles, foam peanuts, wrinkled kraft paper, or shredded paper.
Usually, you can do nothing but throw the wrappings in the garbage. And how about the packaging of food and items in your grocery store? I have seen as many as 3 different plastic wrappings on one packet of cookies!
What can we do ourselves to reduce all that waste?
#1 Avoid prepackaged foods
Buy a couple of drinking cups with lids, made of bamboo or metal, so you don’t have to bring juice packs or juice boxes to the park. I had an endless discussion with my son about the drink packets he gave to our grandchildren. “But the kids love those”.
It turns out they also love a bright-colored cup. Buying big bottles, not only prevents waste, it saves money as well. And those bottles don’t have to be plastic, there is a lot of choice of juice in glass bottles.
#2 Choose retailers who use reusable or recyclable materials for packaging
Also, bring your own reusable containers and shopping bags. It’s not that long ago that almost everybody used the thin plastic bags that were available at the checkout. Nowadays, those plastic bags are either forbidden or cost money. Change is possible once everyone puts in a little effort, isn’t it?
Additionally, some retailers who manufacture and distribute processed foods are beginning to package them in reusable and/or easily recyclable containers to minimize waste.
#3 Buy in bulk
Whether you’re buying cereals, rice, herbs, or nuts at your grocery store, when you buy in bulk you cut down on packaging. The same if you buy books online. Think about it – if you buy one book at a time online then you’re going to receive a box for each book and all the packaging that goes along with shipping that item.
Buying in bulk can either mean you buy bigger boxes or bottles, or you can fill your own jars and containers from a huge bulk package the store bought.
#4 Reuse packaging products
Materials like paper, wrapping paper, plastic bags, tins, and filling material can be reused for packaging. Plastic containers can serve as plant pots for seedlings. Egg cartons are also ideal for that. If they are not painted, you can put them with the seedling in the ground so you don’t damage the roots.
#5 Buy unpackaged fruits and vegetables
Bananas have their own jacket, why would they need a plastic one on top of that? Cucumbers last longer in a plastic shrink wrap, yet if you buy them from local farmers they don’t need it. An added advantage is that the goods don’t have to travel far which saves on pollution as well.
#6 Second-Hand goods
Used products rarely come packaged. You just pick them up as they are from the thrift store or the charity shop. By the way, bring your own rarely used goods there as well. It can save a lot of space in your home.
#7 Barter and/or trade items
Barter and trade in products is a great way to save money and conserve resources. Many people form book exchange groups to save money and materials simply by sharing books. And some people organize social groups to share clothes and other items.
I guess almost every country has a secondhand stuff platform on the internet. Online possibilities are also Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
Have a look at the Freecycle Network. Their motto is “Don’t throw it away, give it away” with the objective to keep good items out of the landfills.
#8 Choose the brand with the least packaging
When you are comparing similar items from different brands, choose the one with the least packaging.
#9 Look for deposit-return packages
Bottles, tins, containers, or crates are examples of packaging that can have a deposit return. When I still had my office I could return my printer cartridges and get a bit of money for them in return. Our Brita filters don’t require a deposit, but we can send them back anyway for reuse.
Make it easy for consumers
We as consumers and customers cannot do everything alone. Producers also have a big responsibility. And of course, there are not just bad producers. A lot really put in an effort to make things better.
The How2Recycle Label gives us an indication of how to recycle materials. This is an American organization, but the EU has similar regulations.
What I would like is consistency in the materials of the packaging. I hate cardboard boxes that are sealed with plastic tape. Why not use paper tape instead, so the recipient doesn’t have to rip everything apart to be able to recycle everything properly.
Lots of plastic waste can’t be recycled because the composition differs or cannot be traced. The same with clothes. It’s almost impossible to recycle textiles because of all the different materials used.
In conclusion, there is a responsibility for both consumers and producers to minimize packaging and move to zero waste.
Do you have additional ideas to minimize package waste? Tell us in the comment box below.