After a child opens a brightly colored present, one whose exterior communicates attention and care, one that looks beautiful, maybe even flashy, one that promises surprise once the paper and bows reveal what lies beneath, in moments, he quickly discards the packaging in a crumpled ball — caring only for the gift. Our attention becomes so focused on the main thing, what lies within the box, the item worthy of careful delivery, that we forget about even the most elaborate wrapping. However, our garbage cans and landfills are full of discarded packaging: paper, cardboard, plastic, styrofoam, rubber, foil, glass, and more. Like a child thinking only of what lies within the box, we overlook the box; however, if we begin to look at the whole impact of our consumption and seek to enact more sustainable practices in every single aspect of the production and delivery of goods, we will find opportunities to reduce our consumption, lessen our total waste, shift to using recycled and biodegradable disposable materials, and promote a more ecologically responsible approach to doing business. In the process, companies may wind up saving money. Therefore, in order to act responsibly, both fiscally and environmentally, all companies should seek efficiencies in their approach to packaging as well as replacing old packaging practices with environmentally friendly alternatives.

We live in an age where innovation and progress are a matter of survival, not merely a matter of human ingenuity. The earth we leave to the next generation depends on our insistence on change. While some argue that we have waited too long, that only a massive global shift in priorities has the power to save the planet, every small change still matters, primarily because small changes can influence other changes. If you need a fire, you must begin with a spark. One single company insisting on innovative, progressive, environmentally progressive packaging practices can set a standard for other companies in an industry, and because different industries often work hand in hand, the influence extends. This is how large-scale change happens: one becomes an outlier; another sees what can be done and becomes a second follower; more follow and create a trend. A trend then becomes a movement, and a movement gives way to a new paradigm. As more and more companies hold themselves accountable to do less harm, eventually, our approach to creating, distributing, and using products will shift until someday we will learn to do no harm.

I first started to “see” packaging when I would go grocery shopping with my mom. She insists on paper bags, refuses to allow them to double bag, and almost always brings some of our bags from past trips back in for reuse. Often, the person checking her out or the bagger or both look confused at her requests. People who touch thousands of bags a day seem oblivious to the facts about grocery bags, about the millions of plastic bags used every second, about the fact that the small piece of plastic they are wrapping our groceries in will still exist on this earth long after the conveyor belt of life has allowed their own bodies to decompose. How could they not think about all those bags? I wondered, and then I started thinking not only about grocery bags but also every scrap of packaging that I encountered when I watched my cousin Mia open her birthday presents, when myfamily opened Amazon boxes delivered to our door, when our neighbor did a remodeling project and materials were delivered to their home. While the food industry was eliminating straws, I started noticing the immense waste involved in wrapping all the presents we give each other and ourselves.

The time has come for us to see everything. We cannot overlook opportunities to act responsibly toward future generations any longer. We know better now so we must act better now. My personal values and vision for my life is to become an interior architect, and my approach will center around a belief in the need for sustainable practices and for innovation — a revolutionary kind of progress that takes every detail into account. Furthermore, I believe in the compatibility of profitability and responsibility, the connection between progress and success. Contributing in this field will bring me fulfillment and purpose, and I am already thinking about how the companies that create the materials I need to build and remodel the world will gift wrap what I need from them. I will not throw away the shiny red bow without a thought. A new generation of young people like me will see it all, the packaging and the product — all the potential ways we can do better to steward this amazing, generous, and life giving earth we live in as passersby.

Essay by: Isabella Cicero
Homestead High School

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