Kudos to anyone who got my obscure Cypress Hill reference :-), because this post is, in fact, about (w)rapping. Americans- and many other countries, but I will pick on my own because its pretty egregious in this matter- use a LOT of packaging. According to a recent report from the sustainability nonprofit As You Sow,
Americans throw away more materials than any other country, more than four pounds per person per day, or a total of 250 million tons of municipal solid waste per year. Paper and paperboard products and packaging together form the largest category of municipal solid waste – about 44%. Barely half of these materials are recovered for recycling.
What does your typical visit to the grocery store look like? If I describe my typical trip to the grocery store, staying at the external surface of the products I buy, it looks something like this: plastic bag, plastic bag, veggie, banana, mesh bag, plastic container, box, box, tub, tube, plastic bag, styrofoam plate with plastic wrap, plastic bottle, cardboard container, plastic wrapping… yes, you’ve got the theme. Much of what we buy comes wrapped in packaging, much of it plastic (for more on this topic, see Action 49).
I have started to be much more conscientious about bringing my own containers and bags back to the store for reuse, which is an important first step that could go a long way in reducing our plastic consumption. We can bring our own bags to all kinds of stores instead of taking their plastic bags, and we can bring bags and containers for a lot of things at my grocery store, including bulk grains, flours, pasta, spices, coffee, and even olive oil and honey. We can also easily bring back our plastic produce bags, or buy or make cloth ones, to hold our fruits and veggies. You can check out my awesome friends at Trash Backwards for a ton of ideas for how to reduce your plastic intake at the grocery store and elsewhere. But, unless you live in a place where you have access to a packaging-free grocery store (yes, they exist: here is one in Austin) there are many things that we buy in the store that are already pre-packaged. But even with reusing, bringing one’s own containers, and going for the better-packaged option if its available, one eventually hits a wall of somewhat unavoidable plastics.
So here is one more thing we can do, to push the envelope even further and reduce the fossil fuel-based plastics that are both generated and landfilled, thus contributing a one-two punch to climate change: we can ask the companies that produce these products to reduce and improve their packaging. There are already some amazing steps being taken by several companies in this regard: check out The Disappearing Package for some really encouraging examples.
Today I took the simple step of contacting one of my favorite breakfast cereal makers, Barbara’s, and asked them if they’ve considered making the bag inside the box out of compostable materials. I chose Barbara’s because for one, I am a customer, and for another, I know they already have a sustainability focus to their products, so I think they might be more likely to be receptive to this idea. Pretty much all cereals in the store come this way- a bag inside a box- and as far as I’ve seen, Ive not found that any of these bags are made out of recyclable or compostable materials. But why not? We’re talking about a product that is dry, shelf-stable, and room temperature: many of the things that plastic is good for- holding liquids in, withstanding temperature changes- arent even needed in this case. At 2.7 billion boxes of cereal sold per year, that is a LOT of plastic bags that are going into the landfill. Which is not to say that if we changed the bag to a recyclable or compostable material, those bags would end up in the right place most or all of the time- as you can see from the quote above, we aren’t great at recycling the stuff that could be recycled in this country. But, its likely to be an improvement over the billions of fossil-fuel based plastic bags we produce every year just to hold our cereal.
And that’s a (w)rap.