With Christmas just around the corner, people scrambling to shop for presents, and myriads of packages delivered every second, one thing is clear: we love to consume. Along with spending on luxuries such as toys and electronics, we also spend on necessities like clothes and food. Luxury or necessity, both nowadays are easy to access with the click of a mouse. This accessibility makes it easy to forget the components that make up such a system, a system built at the expense of mother nature.
In the US, packaging makes up thirty percent of total waste. Most of this waste ends up in landfills or our oceans for lack of recycling. This collection of unrecycled waste doesn’t biodegrade, it pollutes our lands and waters and contributes to the climate crisis creating insurmountable problems for future generations. So how do we change this and make packaging more sustainable so that it’s easier for us to compost, recycle or reuse? It starts with the very companies benefitting from our purchases. For example, when ordering from Amazon and you buy the smallest of items, oftentimes it comes in plastic packaging padded by more plastic. If you receive non-plastic packaging, the iconic Amazon box, it’s often double or triple the size of the actual item. While I appreciate the detailed and delicate way to ensure my order gets to me unharmed, sometimes those materials used for packaging are non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, and non-reusable. Amazon isn’t the only company doing this and instead of creating more non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, and non-reusable waste, they should work on more reasonable solutions such as compact packaging, which would not only reduce the amount of material they package but would decrease labor costs as well. Companies should also focus on switching to sustainable material, such as corrugated cardboard or other paper based, bio-derived products and packaging. These could be done in various ways, including improving and developing mono materials that are recyclable. Even something as simple as getting rid of plastic bags, as some stores have done (mostly due to their state’s policies) is a step in the right direction. Most often these materials are lightweight and take much less energy, which leads to savings in distributions and again, in labor costs. Additionally, a change in packaging wouldn’t just potentially benefit a companies’ pocket, but would also save on oil, energy, GHG emissions and trees that are excessively used to make our current wasteful packaging.
When consumers were asked what the most important attributions were when buying a product, price and quality were among the highest. Any successful company knows that branding is a massive selling point, as consumers want products that are attractive and follow their moral compass, and if it’s light on the pocket, even better. Branding as an environmentally friendly company is a huge attraction. It says “we care about what we’re selling you” by selling you products in packaging that doesn’t harm the environment we all share.
Switching to recyclable, compostable or reusable packaging has additional benefits through the right branding. By making this new environmentally friendly packing a source of pride, you create awareness in consumers. Perhaps they cared about the issue before but weren’t quite committed. Your branding could sway them into rethinking the next time they click that mouse for a quick purchase. Take Padagonia for example. They started as your average run-of-the-mill outdoor clothing brand, however, their branding as an environmentally conscious clothing brand has elevated them to the top of the field. So too your company could be known as that one brand that is making a difference. I know I would feel much better buying from a company that is helping the environment rather than contributing to the problem.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that the only thing we need in order to help our world heal is to focus on sustainable packaging, that would be like saying in order to establish world peace we just need to ban nuclear weapons. The issue is more complex than that. However, more environmentally friendly packaging, as simple as it may seem, would be a large step in the long journey to environmentally friendly manufacturing. Perhaps as we continue spending, whether on food or gifts to put under our Christmas trees, both companies and its consumers will take a much deeper look into how we consume and those practices. By choosing the alternative, we can all do our part to take care of the planet we all share.
Essay by: Tania Carolina Moran
University of Utah