Packaging is ubiquitous. Bought a new watch? It is likely sitting on a piece of plastic within a box. A dishwasher? Time to remove the plastic bag, foam, and cardboard. How about a candy bar? Take off the wrapper before you eat it. All this packaging, especially if its plastic, threatens the Earth, no matter how insignificant it may seem in a garbage can.

Environmentally friendly packaging is often recyclable or biodegradable. Recycling ensures packaging will be reused, either as is, such as using paper padding from one shipment on another, or after being made into something else, such as paper into cardboard. Biodegradable materials can be broken down easily, such as paper and even some plastics. Both methods prevent a buildup of unused plastic in the environment and are more sustainable than unrecyclable and non-biodegradable materials. Sustainability, or the practice of meeting humanity’s current needs while not sacrificing the needs of future generations, is vital to the future of our society.

Consumers cannot control what businesses do, or if they can, not alone. The consumer’s ability to choose where spend money is often touted as the way to influence what businesses do, but one person deciding to boycott a company will not have much of an impact on demand. Other consumers might not have the option to purchase from a company that uses environmentally friendly packaging, either due to a higher price or lack of availability.

Many consumers would prefer more sustainable packaging but prioritize the product itself. There have been several occasions when I have spent minutes looking for the triangle that says the piece of plastic I finished using can be recycled, hoping I just missed it — but it was not there. However, wishing for green packaging does not often affect buying choices. Sustainable practices or the ability to recycle an object are not usually what a customer looks for when buying shampoo. If that is ever the first thing many potential customers look for, chances are disposable plastic is encroaching into their lives, covering the ground, hanging from trees, choking and smothering all that lives on Earth – and by then it may be too late. This does not mean green packaging is not worthy of a company’s thought, on the contrary, the packaging used is an important part of the product and the company’s image. If anything, the low amount of thought potential customers put into buying products with environmentally friendly packaging makes companies’ packaging decisions that much more vital to humanity’s future.

The idea that anything is created for the purpose of being discarded, as with most plastic packaging, is rather mind-blowing. It takes effort, time, and money to be created, then it does its job for a few days, maybe a month, then if the plastic is not recyclable or otherwise environmentally friendly, it is never used again for its entire lifespan. This is not sustainable. This is not what humans have done for millennia, and if plastic continues to pollute the air, land, and water as it does now, it is likely humans will not be around for millennia more. We only get one earth; it is up to us to make it last.

Essay by: Katriana Goldsmith
Arizona Virtual Academy

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