Bad wrap

Will nature win the fight against packaging?

Elbrich Fennema | April 2003 issue
We show our gratitude for a pleasant stay here on earth by leaving behind an enormous amount of peelings and boxes. And cans. And plastic. And glass. And foil. And styrofoam. And PVC. And PET-bottles. Packaging makes up – depending on whether it is calculated by weight or volume – a third to half of our rubbish heaps. In its Winter 2002 edition, Whole Earth devoted a sobering section to the problem of packaging.
The unsettling opening statement declares that our love of packaging is most likely in our genes. A CNN poll in 2001 revealed that 80% of pet-owners had bought their pets a Christmas present and that 67% had even wrapped the present!
Once invented to transport or preserve food, packaging now serves many more purposes. It has become the ‘skin of commerce’. Packaging stimulates sales, simplifies transactions, contains information and, in the case of microwave ovens, saves time. Packaging that can warm-up and then cool down foods is on the way, just as is clever packaging that lets the fridge know when the use-by date has almost been reached or when the product needs to be replenished.
This packaging bonanza not only leads to mountains of rubbish, but has another important consequence as well, ascertains Whole Earth. ‘It used to be that people had a close relationship with products from their region, but nowadays they have become ‘unworldly’ consumers. The bond between consumer and producers has practically disappeared and has been replaced by interaction via packaging. The result of this is that we hardly have any notion of how the foodstuffs we buy are produced, by whom they are produced, what effect the production process has on the environment and how far the goods have been transported. This is the economy of the “one-night stand”.’
Pre-selected seasonal vegetables counterbalance the situation somewhat. They repair the bond between producer and consumer, and, except for a paper bag, there is no packaging involved. However, the days of the milkman will not be coming back soon. For this reason, ways of stemming the tide of packaging waste are being looked into on many fronts.
It was with this in mind that in 1991Germany issued a packaging ordinance that made producers financially responsible for taking back, recycling or otherwise doing away with the packaging of their products. The idea behind this was to urge producers to change their production process in such a way that they would not need as much packaging. The law had instant results. Between 1991 and 1995 the total amount of packaging material fell by 7%. But significant efforts on the part of the consumer were required to separate recyclable packaging – recognizable by its grüne punkt (green dot) symbol – from other packaging; and of course the paper, cans, glass and plastic had to be separated as well. After the initial success, as from 1995 the amount of packaging increased again in accordance with the perturbing pattern that always seems to play up when it comes to waste and recycling – the solution worsens the problem.
Take for example the PET-bottle. It is recyclable, light in weight, can be handed in anywhere and is used everywhere. So, there is no longer anything – with regard to recycling that is – to keep these bottles from being used. ‘Ironically enough recycling maintains the current levels of consumption, or even drives them up higher,’ concludes Whole Earth sourly.
It is impossible to effectively deal with packaging waste without looking at the whole production and consumption chain. ‘Perhaps the PET-bottle is the most suitable packaging material to transport French spring water to California. However, is it actually natural to transpose spring water over such great distances? And is it not just a bit strange to develop “green” packaging for hamburgers – fatty, sodium filled, calorie rich junk food?’ asks the journal.
Change will have to come from different sides; e-commerce, for example. The seducing features and information that we now find on the packaging would be digital. The actual product could then be sent with a minimal amount of packaging. Unfortunately, there are very few producers who make a distinction between e-commerce and shop wares. Most of the time products sold online have extra packaging, so the expectation that e-commerce will make excessive packaging unnecessary is perhaps as realistic as the expectations once had that the computer would bring us closer to a paperless society.
Changes in distribution could make a difference. In Germany, for example, it is possible to take out a ‘washing powder subscription’. Once a month your supply is replenished – straight from the container into your washing powder box. The producer becomes a sort of inventory controller.
Consumer behaviour, of course, also makes a difference. Whole Earth Review reminds us of well-known words to the wise: buy less, buy regionally, buy in bulk and take a mug with you to the office – which saves on disposable coffee cups.
The news on the technological front is even more exciting. And the journal is not looking at the new composite materials that the industry has in store for us that are even more difficult to recycle since they consist of plastic and titanium as well as paper. Whole Earth is setting their sites on bio-mimicry, the imitation of nature: ‘scales, egg-shells, pouches and seed capsules serve the same purpose as commercial packaging: the holding together of loose parts, the protection of the content from outside influences and the giving off of signals to the outside world. Given the similarities, we can learn something from the tactics of nature.’ Take liquid, for example. A pelican’s beak can expand to hold ten litres of water and then spring back again in size. Imagine a bottle that you could fold up and put away after using, but that would then expand again when you filled it up. A cucumber is also a good source of inspiration. It is almost a hundred percent water completely contained in its own cells and therefore never leaks. This would be fantastic for the packaging of dangerous liquids. Self-repair is also an enviable trait of organic materials. Imagine that foil could repair itself after being torn. Or even better, if foil could open and shut its pores just like skin, depending on the humidity inside and outside – this would be a blessing for the packaging of meats. However, the practical application is not yet in sight and bio-mimicry would not contribute much to changes in behaviour. But carrying a bio-cucumber instead of a bottle of mineral water is indeed a good idea. No peeling and no boxes. Only a very small, green stub.
 
 

Solution News Source

Bad wrap

Will nature win the fight against packaging?

Elbrich Fennema | April 2003 issue
We show our gratitude for a pleasant stay here on earth by leaving behind an enormous amount of peelings and boxes. And cans. And plastic. And glass. And foil. And styrofoam. And PVC. And PET-bottles. Packaging makes up – depending on whether it is calculated by weight or volume – a third to half of our rubbish heaps. In its Winter 2002 edition, Whole Earth devoted a sobering section to the problem of packaging.
The unsettling opening statement declares that our love of packaging is most likely in our genes. A CNN poll in 2001 revealed that 80% of pet-owners had bought their pets a Christmas present and that 67% had even wrapped the present!
Once invented to transport or preserve food, packaging now serves many more purposes. It has become the ‘skin of commerce’. Packaging stimulates sales, simplifies transactions, contains information and, in the case of microwave ovens, saves time. Packaging that can warm-up and then cool down foods is on the way, just as is clever packaging that lets the fridge know when the use-by date has almost been reached or when the product needs to be replenished.
This packaging bonanza not only leads to mountains of rubbish, but has another important consequence as well, ascertains Whole Earth. ‘It used to be that people had a close relationship with products from their region, but nowadays they have become ‘unworldly’ consumers. The bond between consumer and producers has practically disappeared and has been replaced by interaction via packaging. The result of this is that we hardly have any notion of how the foodstuffs we buy are produced, by whom they are produced, what effect the production process has on the environment and how far the goods have been transported. This is the economy of the “one-night stand”.’
Pre-selected seasonal vegetables counterbalance the situation somewhat. They repair the bond between producer and consumer, and, except for a paper bag, there is no packaging involved. However, the days of the milkman will not be coming back soon. For this reason, ways of stemming the tide of packaging waste are being looked into on many fronts.
It was with this in mind that in 1991Germany issued a packaging ordinance that made producers financially responsible for taking back, recycling or otherwise doing away with the packaging of their products. The idea behind this was to urge producers to change their production process in such a way that they would not need as much packaging. The law had instant results. Between 1991 and 1995 the total amount of packaging material fell by 7%. But significant efforts on the part of the consumer were required to separate recyclable packaging – recognizable by its grüne punkt (green dot) symbol – from other packaging; and of course the paper, cans, glass and plastic had to be separated as well. After the initial success, as from 1995 the amount of packaging increased again in accordance with the perturbing pattern that always seems to play up when it comes to waste and recycling – the solution worsens the problem.
Take for example the PET-bottle. It is recyclable, light in weight, can be handed in anywhere and is used everywhere. So, there is no longer anything – with regard to recycling that is – to keep these bottles from being used. ‘Ironically enough recycling maintains the current levels of consumption, or even drives them up higher,’ concludes Whole Earth sourly.
It is impossible to effectively deal with packaging waste without looking at the whole production and consumption chain. ‘Perhaps the PET-bottle is the most suitable packaging material to transport French spring water to California. However, is it actually natural to transpose spring water over such great distances? And is it not just a bit strange to develop “green” packaging for hamburgers – fatty, sodium filled, calorie rich junk food?’ asks the journal.
Change will have to come from different sides; e-commerce, for example. The seducing features and information that we now find on the packaging would be digital. The actual product could then be sent with a minimal amount of packaging. Unfortunately, there are very few producers who make a distinction between e-commerce and shop wares. Most of the time products sold online have extra packaging, so the expectation that e-commerce will make excessive packaging unnecessary is perhaps as realistic as the expectations once had that the computer would bring us closer to a paperless society.
Changes in distribution could make a difference. In Germany, for example, it is possible to take out a ‘washing powder subscription’. Once a month your supply is replenished – straight from the container into your washing powder box. The producer becomes a sort of inventory controller.
Consumer behaviour, of course, also makes a difference. Whole Earth Review reminds us of well-known words to the wise: buy less, buy regionally, buy in bulk and take a mug with you to the office – which saves on disposable coffee cups.
The news on the technological front is even more exciting. And the journal is not looking at the new composite materials that the industry has in store for us that are even more difficult to recycle since they consist of plastic and titanium as well as paper. Whole Earth is setting their sites on bio-mimicry, the imitation of nature: ‘scales, egg-shells, pouches and seed capsules serve the same purpose as commercial packaging: the holding together of loose parts, the protection of the content from outside influences and the giving off of signals to the outside world. Given the similarities, we can learn something from the tactics of nature.’ Take liquid, for example. A pelican’s beak can expand to hold ten litres of water and then spring back again in size. Imagine a bottle that you could fold up and put away after using, but that would then expand again when you filled it up. A cucumber is also a good source of inspiration. It is almost a hundred percent water completely contained in its own cells and therefore never leaks. This would be fantastic for the packaging of dangerous liquids. Self-repair is also an enviable trait of organic materials. Imagine that foil could repair itself after being torn. Or even better, if foil could open and shut its pores just like skin, depending on the humidity inside and outside – this would be a blessing for the packaging of meats. However, the practical application is not yet in sight and bio-mimicry would not contribute much to changes in behaviour. But carrying a bio-cucumber instead of a bottle of mineral water is indeed a good idea. No peeling and no boxes. Only a very small, green stub.
 
 

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