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Everything (and we mean everything) is packaged in something today. The food sitting on supermarket shelves is packaged in films, cans, bags boxes and containers. Your new flatscreen TV was packaged in plastic wrap, a box, and a ton of packing material to protect it. Your drink from the vending machine came packaged in an aluminum can or plastic bottle. No matter where you go, packaging waste is sure to be close behind.

Packaging is one of the ultimate forms of waste. It’s designed to be thrown away for the sake of convenience. Except for materials like cardboard, aluminum cans and #1 or #2 plastic bottles  – the only plastics that are ever really recycled – packaging is almost always destined for landfills.

We all need to learn how to mitigate the packaging waste we generate at home, at work, and when we go shopping. By following some of these simple tips, you’ll be on track to do just that without needing to make many drastic changes to your life.

Buy In Bulk
Buy in Bulk
Shutterstock, a katz

Buying dozens of individually wrapped products leads to a lot of waste. Purchasing items in bulk at a wholesale store – such as food, household items or fasteners – not only saves you money, but it can also greatly limit how much packaging waste you generate.

Bring Containers to the Store

Use your own tote bags at the supermarket instead of plastic grocery bags, and bring your own jars and containers to package your veggies, fruit, herbs and other produce – it’s a great way to reduce the number of plastic produce and grocery bags you bring home (and inevitably throw away).

Go to the Farmer’s Market
Farmers Market

Flickr, momentcaptured1, CC BY 2.0

Prepackaged foods are a convenient luxury, but for every food item you consume there is a piece of packaging to follow. Going to a farmer’s market, where food isn’t prepackaged, is a great way to avoid this unnecessary waste. You’ll even be supporting local farmers and getting fresher produce than you would at the supermarket.

Avoid Disposable Cutlery

Disposal dishware and cutlery are never an eco-friendly option. Not only do you have to deal with the packaging, but you’ll also only get one use out of that plastic fork or plate. These are incredibly wasteful convenience products that you, and the environment, are better off without. Use durable plates and cutlery instead that you can reuse over and over again without having to buy replacements that will inevitably generate more packaging waste.

Go to Thrift Stores
Thrift Store

Flickr, Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0

How can this reduce packaging waste, you ask? It’s simple: secondhand items at a thrift store aren’t typically packaged in anything. You can find perfectly good electronics, dishware, decorative items, clothing and just about anything you need at thrift or consignment stores.

Make Products At Home

Instead of going to the store to grab everything you need, see if you have materials on-hand to make a household necessity yourself! This avoids packaging waste and saves you money in the long-run. For example, substitute things like baking soda, dish soap, rubbing alcohol or vinegar to clean around the house instead of resorting to store-bought options. If you have any essential oils (lemon, for example), you can combine a few drops in some water and make your own odor-killing sprays.  

Use Reusable Bottles
reusable bottles

Shutterstock, Brooke Becker

It can be tempting to buy a bottle of water from the vending machine or grab a quick to-go cup of espresso from a coffeehouse. To avoid throwing away all of those disposable cups and plastic bottles, start using refillable steel or plastic bottles instead. Most coffeehouses today allow you to bring your own mugs or thermoses, and filling a bottle with water from the tap or fountain is both free and better for the environment.


Flickr, andyarthur, CC BY 2.0

Be sure to recycle any aluminum cans, steel tins, paper and cardboard boxes, and rigid plastic containers identified with a #1 or #2 on the bottom – these are the most readily recyclable types of packaging around. Most other packaging will not be accepted at your recycling center. Before throwing one of these non-recyclable packages in the trash, see if TerraCycle has a Brigade program for that waste stream, or check out our collection of Zero Waste Boxes to recycle almost everything in your house. / Issue 174 - September 2018
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