Recycling is a myth and it is not as sustainable as the general public thinks it is when they drop their plastic bottle into one of those blue bins. Yes, plastic bottles, empty soda cans, and paper should be recycled. However, that is only half the battle; it is inevitable that a majority of these recyclables will end up in either a landfill or the Pacific trash vortex. According to National Geographic, approximately 91% of items we think are recyclable are actually disposed of in landfills— the last place we want waste to end up in. With that said, would it not be better if materials were completely reestablished back into the environment? If businesses minimize the materials they use when making their products, including packaging, it could make a significant difference to our environment. With waste management sites overburdened with an influx of garbage, a truly sustainable solution to the global waste issue is to follow a cradle to cradle approach in which all waste is contained in a closed system and can be returned to the biosphere. If businesses decide to follow this approach and invest in eco-friendly packaging it would (1) reduce carbon emissions, (2) minimize the amount of materials being dumped in landfills, and (3) boost their image in the product market.

Carbon emissions make up about 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are one of the leading causes of climate change and various environmental issues. One of the major anthropogenic sources of these emissions result from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil needed to power the factories producing products. In contrast, the production of eco-friendly packaging is generally powered by healthier energy sources such as solar and wind power— limiting carbon footprint.

All materials must be biodegradable in order to design completely eco-friendly packaging. By using all natural fibers and organic materials that can be turned into compost after use. An example of this concept, known as cradle to cradle, are biodegradable packing peanuts made from all-natural materials— cornstarch and water— that will dissolve in water and be converted into compost. This completes a biological cycle that returns the materials used to create the product back into the biosphere. Another way to minimize the amount of materials used in production is the take-back program in which manufacturers “take-back” used materials or products and reintroduce them into the production process. This approach is not entirely cradle to cradle; however, it is a feasible step for businesses to take towards being responsible for the impact they have on the environment when making their products. In addition to the positive effects eco-friendly packaging can have on our environment, it could also boost a company’s image in the product market. Considering that an increasing number of individuals nowadays are becoming more conscious of the environment, businesses have the opportunity to take advantage of this change in consumer taste and market towards a specific audience of Millennials and Generation Z— these individuals are more open to environmentally friendly products than older generations. By companies converting to eco-friendly packaging they will demonstrate their alliance to other values and appeal to a wider range of individuals. This would then expand their target audience and provide them with more opportunities to sell their products.

All three of these solutions indubitably have their disadvantages, typically regarding cost of production and transportation. However, it ultimately comes down to a question of values whether or not corporations are willing and able to invest in eco-friendly packaging.

Essay by: Jenna Frazier
Marana High School

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