We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Our Packaging Dilemma

Have you ever been excited and dismayed about something at the same time? Packaging is doing that to me right now. Maybe you have some answers, but they don't seem to be simple to me.

Plastic seems to be my monster right now. I love all the things that are possible because of it. Yet, I'm horrified by problems it can cause. Yes, I'm lumping several plastics into that monster, and they may not all be bad, but I think it's safe to categorize them all together.

I have covered "the horrors" of plastic in several articles, both on this website and on others. Topics have included banning plastic straws and plastic bags, plastic in canned foods, plastic pollution, and plastic keycards.

As I have covered topics like that my awareness has increased. When I covered paper amenity, milk and wine dispensers, masquerading as paper anyway, I wasn't as alarmed about plastic as I am today. I now boldly state that plastic and food don't mix. But then I ponder how you avoid it these days. Especially in regards to food packaging.

The joys of plastic are that it tends to be durable and light weight. That means you save money in shipping plastic-packaged goods. Traveling with your own toiletries is easier because you can save weight with small plastic containers. Back packing and food storage are better with plastic, at least as far as weight and durability are concerned. It also keeps cans from corroding, preserving food better. Toys, diapers, technology, serving and eating pieces, exercise equipment, car parts, machinery -- the list goes on and on, and on and on.

The horrors of plastic include several important issues: The hormonal imbalances it can cause. The use of precious petroleum resources to manufacture it are a big issue. Offgassing that negatively impacts our health. Waste creation from the disposal of thousands and thousands of plastic containers, containers that don't disintegrate, even in good conditions. I've seen plastic packaging put into plastic packaging! How much plastic and waste can we generate?! I know, don't ask a question you don't know the answer to, or don't want the answer to.

Alternatives include glass, metal, paper, cardboard, and fabric. Glass is heavy and breaks too easily. Metal is heavy and expensive, and has its own environmental issues because of the need to mine it before its useful, but at least it's durable. Paper, cardboard and fabric are limited to dry goods, and are variable durable, though lightweight (though the fear of vandalism/terrorism is high enough that it's unlikely these packaging options will be wildly popular anyway). One thing we do want in our packaging is that it's easily stackable, and stable once we stack it.

Buying in bulk is a partial solution, though you still have to contend with packaging on the shipping and receiving end of the line. And it's not always feasible, like in the wilds of Colorado where I live.

Well, as I connect all the dots I get overwhelmed about plastic. But I saw a partial solution, a great step in the right direction recently. It's much like the solution of packaging wine in boxes. Use a plastic bladder inside a compostable cardboard bottle. I wouldn't be excited about this solution if it were for food, but it was for laundry soap. Seventh Generation has created this packaging for their liquid laundry detergent. It's very cool, and the detergent works well too.

My big question still hovers around the issue of the dangers of plastic in our lives. Does all plastic offgas and leach harmful chemicals into our lives? When I wrote about the joys of silicone bakeware I researched as best I could about its potential dangers. I couldn't find any, but a friend takes the stance that it's plastic, albeit with silicone molecules attached, and therefore it's still evil and should be avoided.

I'm not going to be able to remove plastic from my life completely, at least in the foreseeable future, but I can reduce its presence in my life. My first choice for packaging is cardboard because I can use it in my compost bin, line my garden paths with it, burn it in my fireplace, and recycle it. For food packaging I prefer metal and glass, though that's not always convenient or possible. If I have to have plastic packaging I'm in favor of finding ways to reduce the amount used. Seventh Generation has taken a good step, I think. A better one, for numerous reasons, would be to make their detergent a powder and package it in cardboard.

What ideas do you have about reducing packaging, specifically plastic packaging? I'd love to hear and learn from you.


Hi Kit - If you want to really reduce all the packaging related to detergents and softeners why not give soap nuts a try? I've been using them for 2 years now. A 1 lb pkg lasts me an entire year. Check them out at webesoapnuts.com. They are wonderful! Safe for the septic and when they have outlived their usefulness you can toss the remnants into the compost pile. It's all good!

Bobbi at December 5, 2011 6:47 PM
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