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A packaging problem (and solution)

GAYS MILLS - A friend suggested that I write a column on packaging. Always looking for topics that we can all relate to, I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it before. We deal with packaging every day and I guess we just don’t see it–it’s hiding in plain sight.

We recently got new garbage bins at our address. These things are HUGE, comically huge. Regular garbage is picked up (quickly, by robot, hence the new bins) every week and the recycling bin is picked up every other week. After using these bins for a few months, the recycling bin is starting to look about right-sized. Rather than boxing up, tying up, or bagging paper stuff as before, all of that is simply thrown into the mega bin helter-skelter along with other recyclable stuff, bottles, cans, milk jugs, etc. I would really like to see how these loads of recyclable are handled at the end of their journey, how they sort it out, process it, etc.

One packaging concern of mine is cardboard. All the online buying today means it’s usually coming to you in a cardboard box. Someday when I have everything else done I’m going to sit on the patio and count just how many delivery vans pass our house in a given day. FedEx, UPS, Speedee, USPS, etc, the delivery traffic, even out in rural areas, is quite amazing.

I received a large box this last week. It was 16 x 13 x 23 inches. The contents weighed less than a pound and took up an estimated five percent of the space in the box. There was a lengthy piece of thick brown paper wadded into the box to fill it up. I was flummoxed. It seemed like such a waste, a waste of space and a waste of one-way cardboard.

The current Popular Mechanics magazine has an article on packaging and shows quite a bit about cardboard. The title of the article is ‘Packaging is Killing Us.’ Some facts gleaned from the article: between Thanksgiving and New Years last year, delivery services delivered about two billion packages. Every year in the US, we produce about 350 billion square feet of cardboard, or over right million acres of the stuff. About one quarter of the paper and cardboard we use ends up in a landfill. The 68 million tons of new cardboard produced in 2015 has the same impact as 94 coal-powered plants running for one year.

If you’re feeling at all guilty about all the cardboard we use, join the club. It seems so wasteful to me. I have a potential partial solution to the problem and it goes like this:  Send the boxes, after you have accumulated a few, back to where they came from on the trucks that delivered them. Most of the boxes are taped, not glued. The tape can be cut and the boxes easily flattened out.  They surely could be used again and probably used over and over. Amazon accounts for 49 percent of the e-commerce market so they could (and should) be the leader in this. It has to be economically feasible for such a plan and, more importantly, ecologically feasible.  It certainly would be good public relations.

Imagine in the near future getting a box on your doorstep, a box from one of the big delivery services. It looks like the boxes you get now, but somehow it’s different. It looks like it’s been used before, looks like it’s got some miles on it. And it does. Over in the corner of the box is a grid with the numbers 1-12 in it. The 10 is X-ed out. The box you just got is the tenth time it has been used. I think that would feel good.