One Family, One Month, 50kg Of Packaging. Why? — The Observer Magazine Investigates.

One family one month

Did you know that 14.4g of oil are used to make a Heinz ketchup 'stay clean cap' as opposed to 3.8g for a normal lid? Well Lucy Siegle of the Observer newspaper didn't either until she started investigating the packaging industry. She realised things had really got out of hand on the over packaging front when she was confronted with the absurdity of a shrink wrapped coconut. Of all foods needing packaging the coconut is clearly not one of them! As she wrote in her brilliant article last Sunday 'they represent a peerless example of mother nature's ability to provide a delicious foodstuff in a robust, appropriate, convenient and ultimately biodegradable container (ie the husk).' The coconut episode resulted in an experiment with four families to see how much packaging they went through in a month. Needless to say the results were pretty staggering, as well as very informative about the packaging industry itself.When Lucy Siegle asked the supermarket chain Morrisons why they felt it necessary to shrinkwrap coconuts she was met with a list of reasons which when translated basically means 'the customer demands it'. This is not an uncommon response to consumer complaints as it cleverly turns the blame straight back to the complainer. But do we really demand so much packaging? This is what Lucy Siegle wanted to find out with her experiment. She observed that most of the families were surprised by the quantities they had consumed in one month. '"It does look like a hell of a lot when you put it all together," says Eva, surveying the damage that has accumulated in the family's living room.'

Siegle also found that while the families were trying to recycle they often found the process confusing, for example which plastics can be recycled and which can't. Another mother Hilary says: '"I would normally recycle a lot of it, including yogurt pots and food trays although I've just looked in the recycling leaflet and found out they are excluded, so I've been contaminating my recycling."' Siegle goes on to explain why it is eco-design that could have the biggest positive influence on the packaging industry:

'Looking at the many forms of plastic, cardboard, cans and composites spewed over the living room of one of our test families, it's not hard to spot examples of excessive packaging, brain-dead design or both. The eco designers will need all their innovative powers and cunning to reverse industry apathy and denial, and to save us from drowning in a sea of our consumerist excesses. It's not exactly reinventing the wheel, but it's about time we unwrapped it.'

Read the whole article by Lucy Siegle in last Sunday's Observer Magazine.