Everything we buy comes with packaging. The big problem is that there’s generally far too much of it. Often there’s far more packaging than item and we just end up throwing it away since so much of it is made of plastic or of some other material that can’t be recycled.
It’s not only the items we buy, it’s also how we carry them. Each year, according to one study we use 17 billion plastic carrier bags in the UK. Some of them get recycled, many more are binned or discarded, and we end up with the ugly sight of them hanging on tree branches next to roads. Even worse, plastic litter in the oceans, much of it plastic bags, is responsible for the deaths of about 100,000 marine mammals every year.
All the big supermarket chains have pledged that they’ll reduce packaging, but how much remains to be seen.
What You Can Do
There are a few simple things you can do that can certainly reduce packaging. Follow the example of Hebden Bridge, which outlawed plastic carrier bags in 2007, and use a supermarket bag for life or a jute or cotton bag.
It’s simple (all you have to do is remember to take them with you when you go shopping), and a very effective way of cutting down on the amount that goes into landfills and causes CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
That’s one thing. You can also vote with your feet and buy where goods are packaged less. At a farmer’s market or a farm shop you’ll find things wrapped in a lot less, often just a paper bag that can be recycled easily.
Of course, much packaging is out of our control. The decision lies with the manufacturers. But the more pressure that’s brought to bear on them, from retailers and consumers, the more they’re going to listen and change.
Become an activist. Write letters – or even better, send e-mails – to manufacturers complaining about packaging if it’s excessive. Packaging is excessive. There are eight million tonnes of packing produced in the UK every year, most of which ends up in landfills. That figure alone should make you angry if you’re trying to reduce your own carbon footprint.
Part of the problem is that while many of us say we want less packaging, we also want to keep it because we feel it’s more convenient and hygienic. We need to have a shift in our own attitudes before we can fully expect manufacturers to change.
Recycle everything you can. There are limits on what we can recycle, of course, and sadly they’re far lower than they should be. But make sure with a package that you separate plastic from cardboard in a package and recycle the card, for example. Every little helps. When our landfills are so clogged, we need to recycle everything possible.
You could even start a campaign in your town and city to have plastic carrier bags banned. It worked well in Hebden Bridge, and it can work in other places. Once real momentum begins, it could sweep across the UK and you could have had a hand in it. Then you’d have made a real packaging difference!