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Once upon a time, people had to go to a public market and buy fresh food everyday. If the food wasn’t used that day or the next, it would spoil and would be wasted. Today, with the help of packaging, food can be stored for weeks, months and sometimes even years before it has to be used. Because of packaging, food is cleaner and can be kept longer, many things can be purchased more conveniently, and life as a whole is easier. Like nearly everything else ever invented, packaging and disposable goods are not without their negative aspects as well. Americans throw out more than 180 million tons of garbage each year (Fitzhugh 93).
On the website for the company Tetra Pak, which is a packaging company that deals mostly in liquid food products, they list four major benefits to packaging: protection, preservation, communication, and convenience (Tetra Pak). The first two reasons are obvious. Packaging provides a sealed safe place for food, away from water, air, and other things that could potentially damage it or cause it to be ruined. The product is also preserved by the packaging. The package can keep the food or item usable for a much longer time then if it did not have the packaging around it. Once of the best examples of this is with canned goods. Canning food allows it to be kept for an incredibly long time, whereas fresh goods must be used up quickly, before they expire. TetraPak.com lists communication as their third benefit of packaging. Packages can contain a lot of information about the product itself. For food items, they list the ingredients on the package, along with other information, like the amount that the package contains, and possible warnings. Packages can also draw the consumer to the good and increase the merchant’s sales. Lastly, packages offer convenience. It is no longer necessary to go to the market every day to buy fresh produce. Customers can now buy their food and store it in its packages for quite a long time. The website also states that packages help keep messy foods and things off of our hands and simply makes things easier for the consumer (Tetra Pak).
With all of these benefits, it is no wonder why nearly every product comes in a package of some kind.
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"Packaging Technology in Fitzhugh’s The Organ Grinders." 123HelpMe.com. 28 Mar 2020
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“‘Do me a favor,’ the woman said. ‘Give me double paper in double plastic. And put my meat and frozen foods in those little plastic bags, and do the same for the soap and the detergent’” (Fitzhugh 92-93).
According to an article on CNN.com, “Consumers can make a big impact on trash production by changing their shopping habits just a little, according to a packaging study commissioned by the National Consumers League.” The article also states that “buying products that come in the least amount of packaging is one of the most clear-cut and simple ways consumers can help tackle the waste problem, according to the study which is published in the Earth Day issue of the ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report” (Consumers urged to slash trash). “We have to stop throwing out so much garbage, and one of the best places to start is by not using all these paper and plastic bags” (Fitzhugh 93). It’s our responsibility to try to do our part to minimize the amount of waste we produce.
It’s also the government’s responsibility to regulate packaging waste. The European Union appears to be a leader in this field. By December 31, 2008, packaging waste recovery targets are likely to have an overall recovery of 60% and an overall recycling of 55%. “In the UK, producers of packaging waste are obligated to recover or recycle their share of packaging under the Producer Responsibility Obligations” (Packaging Waste Legislation).
Even though lowering the amount of packaging that we consume is the ideal solution, without a lot of government regulation, companies taking responsibility for their actions, and the general public doing their part, it will be nearly impossible to keep the amount of packaging waste produced to a reasonable level.
“Made from PET plastic foam developed by the company Færch Plast, a new type of food packaging combines a pioneering technological development with a reduction in the environmental impact of the packaging. The expanding process is realized by means of an environment-friendly gas and saves about 30-40% of material. Worldwide, the product is an unprecedented novelty and has consequently attracted the interest of one of Europe's largest companies which happens to be a major consumer of packaging” (New packaging type reduces materials consumption significantly).
The Danish Environmental Protection Agency’s website goes on to state that this new type of packaging, E-CPET, is capable of withstanding heating and puts less pressure on the environment, has 30% less energy consumption than non-expanded crystalline PET (CPET), requires no heating tolerance, and that the use of neutral gas for expansion is much better for the environment than gas pentan, which was previously used to expand packaging. Technologies such as this are necessary in the future if we want to keep the earth in a livable state.
Packaging is a large problem, but not the only problem. Another troublesome pollutant is disposable materials such as plastic forks, knives, and spoons, paper, plastic, and Styrofoam cups and plates, and, perhaps one of the worst, disposable baby diapers.
“I mean, a baby must go through, what, eight or ten diapers a day for,
what, about two years? Let’s see, that’s about eight thousand diapers per baby and they must take twenty or thirty years to decompose. And when you think of the ninety-five million babies born every year, damn, that’s a lot of disposable diapers” (Fitzhugh 99).
These disposable items are very convenient. Unlike with a cloth diaper, when the disposable diaper is used, one simply throws it away and starts fresh. Although convenient, baby diapers cause a huge amount of waste. Solutions to this problem can be as simple as using cloth diapers. Although they are not nearly as convenient and easy as disposables, cloth diapers can be reused an infinite number of times and only require washing. However, there are people who are not willing to give up the ease of disposable diapers. There is a company named Eco Baby, which is located in Dublin, Ireland that has developed a baby diaper that is able to be simply thrown into a composter and disposed of by worms. “Baby Nappies make up over 4% of land filled domestic waste.
The Eco Nappy offers a real alternative. Now, parents can enjoy the convenience
of a disposable baby nappy without worrying about their environmental effects” (Ecobaby). It’s incredibly important that we continue to explore these life technologies and keep making the effort to keep the world suitable to live in.
Unfortunately, far too many people are taking the uncaring approach of the old woman in The Organ Grinders.
“‘I will not be around by the time things are that bad.’ She smiled her old lady smile. ‘So I really don’t care about any of that.’”...
“‘What about your children or your grandchildren?!’ Paul yelled across the store. ‘They’ll be around! Don’t you care about the world they’ll be living in?!’ ‘That will be their problem,’ the old woman said.” (Fitzhugh 94-95).
Preventing it from getting to a point in the future where it’s impossible to fix is a necessary thing to do and the technologies we have now can help us do that. With diapers that dispose and turn into fertilizer and more economical forms of packaging, we’re getting started in the right direction. One can only hope that our technologies continue to grow in their ability to help keep waste levels reasonable. We can not simply rely on technology to fix everything however. We have to do our part to minimize the trash we produce and not buying products such as “individually plastic-wrapped portions of synthetic cheese substance” (Fitzhugh 93) is a good place to start. With smart, environmentally conscious consumers and the growing ability of technology, the amount of waste produced from packaging and other products can be limited. “The Health of this planet isn’t a matter of your personal convenience!” (Fitzhugh 95)
“Consumers urged to slash trash.” CNN.com. April 9, 1999. CNN. 12-2-2003
Ecobaby. Ecobaby Limited. 12-3-2003
Fitzhugh, Bill. The Organ Grinders. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
New packaging type reduces materials consumption significantly. Danish Environmental
Protection Agency. 12-1-2003
Packaging Waste Legislation. Letsrecycle.com. 12-3-2003
Tetra Pak. Tetra Pak. 12-2-2003