Packaging waste clogging landfill

Packaging waste clogging landfill
By Scott Fields

This country wastes a staggering amount of paper, plastic, and other material on product packaging.  Face it, do you really need that extra sleeve around your to-go coffee cup?  Is the coffee really that hot?   Is it really necessary for small electronic devices to be wrapped in two feet of stiff plastic?  Why do six pieces of fruit need to be housed in containers bigger than shoe boxes?  And while we’re on the subject, what’s the point of shoeboxes at all?

Yes, many consumers conscientiously recycle discarded packaging, but many don’t, sending it to landfill instead.  As a result, it is estimated that 30% of the landfill ( in this country is made-up of packaging waste. In California alone, 22 of 66 million lbs of solid waste generated each year is made up of packaging material.

Europeans have a different idea, as they do with most things when it comes to the environment.  Legislation adopted last month in France requires packaging to be as limited as possible, hitting brands from Chanel to Moet & Chandon. Assuming the law is enforced, it will be illegal to encase a product in anything it doesn’t need for protection as it moves from manufacturer to consumer. At least 27 additional countries have laws which encourage reduced packaging and greater recycling of packaging discards.

The US has no such packaging mandates, and it will no doubt be a long time before this country accepts laws as stringent as those passed in France. Until then, retailers and manufacturers must work together to eliminate and reduce packaging, as well as to design refillable or reusable packages.  Companies such as Terracycle (, its premier product a garden fertilizer made from worm excrement and distributed in used water bottles collected by charities across the country, is just one of many businesses with radically divergent views on packaging.

As for the consumer, we must do our part by purchasing products with the least amount of packaging, and avoiding products that are packaged for a single use.  Of course, we must reuse or recycle the packaging we do bring home, reuse the preferable way to go because recycling takes energy.  And when it comes to reuse, that’s where comes in.

Next week, AltUse is attempting to step up submissions for alternative uses.  Check out the details of the AltUse Packaging Promotion 9/21/2009 on the home page and share whatever ideas you can – the planet needs it.

Scott Fields of is a marketing writer specializing in green messaging. His most recent book ventures include co-writing ‘The Gort Cloud: The Invisible Force Powering Today’s Most Visible Green Brands’ with Richard Seireeni  (2009),  and editing  ‘Curing Infertility: The Incredible Hunyuan Breakthrough’ by Yaron Seidman (2010).