If you've bought a bottle of water anytime over the last few years, you might have noticed a change. Maybe the bottle seemed thinner, the cap a little smaller, or the label a bit different. Are companies just cutting corners? Or could something else be going on?
Packing-related materials make up more than 30 percent of landfill waste—or around 75 million tons each year. (Of that, nearly two-thirds is food packaging.) Globally, consumer goods generate around 207 million tons of packaging waste annually.
These numbers are inspiring a countrywide push for a packaging detox. And companies are taking note—hence the slimmer water bottles with smaller caps and recycled labels. Here's how you can get in on the action.
The Pitfalls of Packaging
In addition to generating tons of waste, producing packaging negatively impacts the environment in several ways:
- It drains natural resources (including water and oil).
- It requires a lot of energy and generates greenhouse gas emissions (thereby contributing to climate change).
- If discarded as litter, it can harm wildlife and pollute our air, water, and soil.
All of this explains why more and more consumers are starting to tire of excess packaging and demand eco-friendlier options instead.
Companies are responding by using renewable, reused, and/or recyclable materials in their packaging; eliminating unnecessary filler materials; and shrinking packaging overall. Some companies are taking things even further by relying on renewable energy to produce their packaging, emphasizing water and energy efficiency, and sourcing materials from environmentally responsible suppliers. Already some estimates suggest 4 billion pounds of waste will have been eliminated between 2005 and 2020.
The Benefits of Reduced Packaging
As you can imagine, reducing packaging benefits human health and the environment in the form of:
- Less waste in landfills
- Less pollution of our air, water, and soil
- Less carbon emissions during the manufacturing process
- Less carbon emissions during the transportation process (because slimmer packages increase the number of items that can be shipped in one truck, thereby reducing the need for additional vehicles)
- Less overextraction of natural resources
Less packaging might also result in cost savings for consumers. In many cases, prices for more heavily packaged products are higher (up to 50 percent higher!) than less-packaged versions of the same product.
How to Reduce Packaging Waste in Your Daily Life
While it’s critical that companies do their part to reduce packaging waste, everyday folks can help out by putting a few of these simple things into practice:
Start with recycling.
This step is a no-brainer. Glass, aluminum, paper, and most plastic can be recycled. Take the time to do your part—and don't forget to get your friends and coworkers involved too.
Opt for recycled, recyclable, and/or biodegradable packaging.
When you do buy, look for these types of products. This could be purchasing peanut butter in glass jars that can be reused as cups or vases, choosing packaging made from post-consumer waste, or buying products in compostable packaging.
Choose reusable products.
The less often you have to buy a product, the less packaging you’ll encounter. It's not always possible, but try to avoid disposable options and choose longer-lasting versions instead.
Buy less stuff.
Easier said than done, of course, but thinking before you buy is never a bad idea. This is easily the most effective way to reduce packaging waste.
Buy in bulk.
Sometimes convenience is key. But when possible, shopping from bulk containers and purchasing concentrates that can be diluted at home to refill your smaller bottles can actually make a huge difference.
When you can’t buy in bulk, choose products with minimal packaging.
While this isn't always within your control, one study found that if residents in a Minneapolis-size city purchased the most minimally packaged versions of 10 common household products, the city could eliminate 150,000 tons of trash annually.
Take your own bags and containers when shopping.
This helps with buying in bulk and reduces your use of plastic or paper bags (essentially another form of packaging). You can even take your own mug or thermos when you get coffee or carry containers to restaurants if you think you might take home leftovers.
Yes, when you're at the airport, you need to buy a bottle of water. But when you're at home or the office, try using a glass or reusable water bottle.
Browsing the consignment store or seeking out friends or family members who already own items you use infrequently is a great way to cut down on packaging waste (and save money to boot).
Maintain and repair existing products.
When something breaks, view it as an opportunity to learn a new skill (refrigerator repair, anyone?) before purchasing a new (packaged) product.
Advocate for companies to reduce their packaging.
If you're really looking to go the extra mile, get involved. Be a voice for more eco-friendly methods, such as using sustainable and recyclable materials.
By reducing your packaging waste, you’ll save money, develop self-reliance, and lend the environment a helping hand. Now that’s a detox we can get behind.
We’ve partnered with Target to cut through information overload and break down exactly what you need to know on complex topics like the one above. Check out the entire Things You Kinda Know series here.