Prior to COVID-19 online shopping was substantially gaining in popularity. It was a way for rural areas to obtain necessary supplies that were not readily available in their communities, and suburban cities to avoid traffic and save time, just for starters. Then came Covid and the places we would frequent for everyday supplies shutdown and recycling and the environment took a backseat to a world pandemic. Consumers now relied more heavily on online shopping and takeout food like never before. With this came a surge in packaging waste and the even more important task of finding a way to design packaging that could be fully recycled and not harm the environment.
With this new birth of online shopping dependency, developing packaging is only one part of the issue and is myopic in thinking. The solution to reducing waste must be a multi-pronged approach and start at a higher level and that is with the amount of packaging that items are shipped in, or in the case of takeout food the number of containers, utensils, napkins, bags, etc. By eliminating some of the waste by over packaging, companies will also save money and make a good impression on customers who might be discouraged from buying from environmentally irresponsible companies.
It is foolish to think that all packaging should be eliminated as a way to solve the problem. If consumers were to receive a product that was broken, messy or looked used they would no longer want to shop from that retailer and that would be bad for business and eventually the economy. One way that has proven super successful and can be used as a model for future innovations is that of reusable grocery bags. If somehow packaging material can be turned into another use for consumers that would be extremely positive. I have seen biodegradable materials or things that can be planted, but items for household use would be a great way to start eliminating waste.
I realize it is a lot easier said than done from what technology to use to help define each person’s lifestyle and develop products that fit into that lifestyle. This is why I think the model of grocery bags is so relevant. Most people go shopping of some sort and need a way to carry those products to and from the store and then again into their homes. In addition, many of those reusable bags are biodegradable.
The current trend and is showing lots of promise is packaging made from corn and is known as polylactic acid (PLA). The main benefit is that it is compostable taking pressure off of landfills. Another reason manufacturers are looking at corn plastics is the price. Currently, petroleum-based products, which plastic is made from, are expensive. Corn is currently only a fraction of that cost and is so much more environmentally friendly.
Although PLA packaging sounds perfect and begs the question of why isn’t everyone using it, it’s important to know that it does have its drawbacks. But for now, it’s better than the plastic alternative and you have to start somewhere.
Essay by: Evan Scott Gower
ASU Prep Digital