Image: Tara Hunt via flickr
Good news, according to the New York Times: excess packaging, plastic in particular, is on the decline. Apparently more because of high oil prices than any environmental concern, but we'll take it. The Times has examples of a few major stores making significant changes:
Target has removed the plastic lids from its Archer Farms yogurts, has redesigned packages for some light bulbs to eliminate plastic, and is selling socks held together by paper bands rather than in plastic bags.
Wal-Mart Stores, which has pledged to reduce its packaging by 5 percent between 2008 and 2013, has pushed suppliers to concentrate laundry detergent so it can be sold in smaller containers, and has made round hydrogen peroxide bottles into square ones to cut down on plastic use.
At Home Depot, Husky tools are going from clamshell to paperboard packaging, and EcoSmart LED bulbs are about to be sold in a corrugated box, rather than a larger plastic case.
And a follow-up blog post expands on a couple others:
Seventh Generation, a maker of sustainable cleaning and personal care products, began using a pressed-cardboard detergent bottle that is recyclable; an inner pouch contains the liquid detergent.
"The category potential for this is huge, from vitamin companies to pet food, juice, milk, " said Julie Corbett, the founder of Ecologic, which makes the cartons.
Recently Wal-Mart began replacing the metal twist ties that keep dolls and other toys in their boxes with paper ties.
Now, reducing packaging is a huge step forward, but it's not the end goal. Buying in bulk—everything from rice and coffee to shampoo using refillable containers—is always going to be the environmentally superior option.
As Planet Green has written before, "Nearly 80 million tons of waste is generated from packaging and containers annually," and from TreeHugger: "a 10 kilogram bag of rice has 20 less bags than the equivalent in 500 gram packages. And it that one bulk bag is probably a compostable cotton sack anyhow, instead of plastic. Wasted transport fuel is reduced because much more product per container is delivered to the store."
So yes, look for products with minimal packaging and support companies making the effort to eliminate excess, but whenever there's a bulk aisle, shop there first.
More on packaging and the environment:
In the UK, Excess Packaging is a Legal Matter
Majority of DVD Packaging To Use 20% Less Plastic
Seventh Generation Leads the Way in Recycled Packaging and Green (Healthy) Cleaning