Go to the store and buy a product, and it is almost a sure thing that there will be some packaging waste. Even a piece of fruit has a little sticker on it you have to get rid of. Electronics seem to be the worst when it comes to packaging...those hard plastic cases that require heavy duty tools to help cut them open, and every part of an electronic device seems to come in its own little bag inside a bigger bag that is inside a box that is packed with foam and then sealed shut with tape. Most of the time, no matter what brand you choose, YOU come home with all that packaging YOU have to throw out. It makes YOU look like the bad guy that is generating the waste. But you aren't. That company did it. Obviously, some packaging is needed for a variety of reasons; shipping, storage, reducing damage to products, and theft prevention at the store. But when YOU are paying the city bill for your waste pickup, and most of the waste you put out for pickup is product packaging, YOU are the one getting the raw deal. So what can you do about it?
LEARN. Educate yourself on products, brands, and stores. Use your almighty dollar to buy (i.e. 'vote for') brands and companies that take responsibility for packaging. Companies need to use recycled material for packaging, and the packaging needs to also be recyclable when you have unpacked your product. This is called EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY (EPR), or sometimes it is called PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP. Think of it this way: in 'the old days', you bought a product and expected it to work; the producer was responsible only for that, and usually your stuff came with a warranty of some sort. But now, EPR is the way things should be done: the producer of the product should be responsible not just for the functionality of a product, but also for the the entire lifecycle of the product. This means the product and packaging are both generated in a way that doesn't use up lots of our limited natural resources, the product itself should function in an economical and environmentally safe manner, and when the product and packaging reach the end of their useful life they should not be expected to just be tossed 'away' into a giant hole in the ground (see previous blog titled "Where is away?").
Many companies now take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, and those are the companies you should be buying from. YOU are the one that can help shift our entire economy to being green by doing this. When you buy from the responsible companies, the other less responsible companies will step up to change their practices so they can try to get your dollars too. Let's look at a few examples:
- Preserve Brand Products: http://www.preserveproducts.com/ Their motto: Nothing wasted, everything gained. This company took a hard-to-recycle plastic (#5) and created a market for it. Buy one of their toothbrushes. The toothbrush handle is made of #5 recycled plastic (yogurt cups and such). The bristles are new of course. The package is made of #5 recycled plastic. Both the toothbrush and package are recyclable. But here is where they go the extra mile: The package doubles as a travel case for as long as you own the product. When your toothbrush wears out, you go to their website, print a pre-paid shipping label, put your toothbrush back into the package it came in, stick on the pre-paid label, and drop it in the mail. It goes back to their company, and they recycle both the brush and package back into their own products again. The only waste YOU generate: a tiny piece of plastic that goes around the package lid to ensure your toothbrush is sanitary when you buy it. This company is absorbing the cost of the shipping and handling the recycling itself. And that is just their toothbrush line; they also have a razor, cutting boards, mixing bowls, measuring cups, and plastic tableware. Their products are becoming more and more available, don't cost any more than other brands, and quality is comparable. The company does even more: they partner with Whole Foods and Brita on projects as well. Check out their website, check out their products, and show those other brands that EPR matters to YOU.
- Hewlett Packard: http://www.hp.com/united-states/hho/buyback-recycle/index.html?jumpid=ex_R602_go/ConsumerBuyback. HP has a great program that highlights their EPR. It is both a Consumer Buyback Program and a Recycling Program. You can go to their website to see lots of electronics items that they may be able to buy back from you, regardless of the brand; they even provide the shipping label for you to send your items to them. Or, if they don't offer you cash back for your items, they will take your HP or Compaq items from you (they'll pay the shipping) and recycle them for you at their own recycling center. They also provide shipping to return inkjet and laser cartridges, and they have multiple dropoff locations at stores around the country. They clearly don't expect YOU to just throw out the stuff when you are done with it, and they don't expect YOU to figure out what to do with it. They do it for you. They also sell refurbished products (i.e. perfect when you want to give a kid his/her first computer or camera without breaking the bank). They also have a program for recycling large banners and flags generated by companies. Clearly, this company is taking steps to reduce YOUR responsibility for THEIR waste.
- Clothing is often reusable (sold at yard sales, Goodwill, etc.), but often times we wear our clothing till it has holes, tears, or spills and can't really be re-worn. Sometimes it might become a rag to use around the house for a few months, but after that it ends up in the garbage. However, Patagonia http://www.patagonia.com/web/us/patagonia.go?assetid=1956 will take back their clothing products (and sometimes other brands too) and recycle the fibers into new clothing. You just drop it off at their stores. Another fine example of a company taking steps to reduce what gets sent to a landfill.
- Nike: http://www.nikereuseashoe.com/ Tennis shoes eventually wear out, and when that time comes, Nike steps up to reuse those shoes. They will take any brand of tennis shoes in their donation bins and they separate the shoes down into their 3 main parts: fabric, foam, and rubber. Each part is then ground up and reused in sports surfaces, like basketball and tennis courts. They are another company that allows the consumer to enjoy the product while the company handles the waste at the end of the product's life.
Remember, YOUR dollar is the vote to help change our economy to be more environmentally friendly...spend it wisely.