In the UK, Excess Packaging is a Legal Matter

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Image: Elliot Brown via flickr

Who said the U.S. has the most lawsuit-happy culture? The UK supermarket giant Sainsbury's was sued back in September for using too much packaging. The case was dropped about a month later, but that didn't stop the New York Times from writing a story about packaging, its excesses, and efforts to reduce them, on Christmas day.The Sainsbury's case revolved around a type of meat on its shelves, called "Taste the Difference Slow Matured Ultimate Beef Roasting Joint," sold in what a local authority called "excessive" packaging (vacuum-packed plastic on a plastic tray covered with a plastic lid and wrapped in cardboard) that is harmful to the environment.

The case was dropped because Sainsbury's, apparently, fixed the problem days before the court date by reducing the amount of packaging used on "Taste the Difference." But it seems worth mentioning—or repeating—here that when it comes to packaging, enough is enough. Learn to factor packaging into your purchase decisions. If you're torn between two products, how about making minimal packaging the deciding factor? Or better yet, making packaging-free products a new year's resolution?

The Times story highlights some great efforts in England by businesses and targeted waste-reduction programs alike to eliminate unnecessary packaging: a Walmart-owned chain, ASDA, for example, asked customers to leave items that they thought were overly packaged in a designated bin to be considered for redesign. The same store is also experimenting with refillable laundry detergent packets, and while there are a couple examples of States-side efforts, they are fewer, and have less teeth, than in the UK. Two key differences:

the federal Environmental Protection Agency also encourages efforts to reduce packaging and household waste, but through low-key exhortation rather than inspections and regulations.

The United States, unlike Britain, imposes no special federal tax on landfills, and weaker regulation makes it easier to expand them.

Is it time for more regulation and tougher access to landfills?

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