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Monday, June 03, 2019
Paper or Plastic? It's not about the recycling.
I read Paper or Plastic, by Daniel Imhoff, very quickly, at the request of our thrift store manager who wants the staff to have a chance at it too.
The book is almost fifteen years old, and it's showing its age somewhat but still worth looking at. It's one of a series of three books, and this one is, very specifically, about the issue of packaging, large and small, including shipping packaging such as pallets. What is our burgeoning need for packaging stealing from the earth, and how in the world will we put it back? It reminded me of a rude meme misquoting The Lorax: "I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees; litter again, and I'll break your (expletive) knees." But is anger all we can offer?
The message that came across from the book was not so much about the ins and outs of whether paper or plastic packaging can be recycled better, but the huge amount of resources they both demand in the first place. These days everybody knows that plastic is bad bad bad; but the truth is that paper (and wood and cardboard) hurts too. The Lorax speaking for the trees has more to worry about than litter; and that's just the packaging, we're not even talking about products. Imhoff does point out how much primary packaging relates to the thing inside it, or the amount of product demanded in one package. If people didn't think they required cup-sized amounts of yogurt, for example, then the recyclability of small plastic yogurt cups wouldn't be an issue. Or you can look at the problem more as the sheer amount of stuff that gets made and needs packaging. A thousand pairs of shoes need a thousand sets of boxes or wraps or hang-tags. If everyone bought fewer shoes in the first place, there would (obviously) be fewer trimmings to dispose of.
But how can we fight back against over-packaging caused by over-production? First and most obviously, to make do, or make do longer, with the thing we have instead of buying something else. Intentional contentment will save us from a certain amount of Loraxian knee-breaking.
Beyond that? Thrift stores (yes, I made the connection). Yard sales, rummage sales, buying used goods locally through online ads. Swapping and borrowing. Upcycling stuff. You get double points for anything that is both pre-used and that doesn't come in a box or bag you can't easily re-use (compostable is okay).
More ways to avoid packaging, and maybe save money too: growing food. Making things at home that otherwise come in a package, like cookies or yogurt, as long as the ingredients don't produce even more packages. Buying things in person from local makers. Shopping at bulk stores and produce markets that let you re-use containers. Buying big sacks of things if it works for you. (We used to buy oatmeal and beans that way, through a buying co-op).
And yes, buying less overall. Sharing things among more people. Renting things you'll need only briefly. Having gift-free parties and swag-free meetings. In some ways, that could be more important than worrying about whether it's paper or plastic. Because our houses and apartments and storage units and closets and backpacks are packaging too.
Save some packaging. Save some trees. Save some knees.