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Packaging's primary purpose is to protect and contain a product. There are also a number of secondary goals related to ease of dispensing, marketing and shelf appeal, product security, informing the consumer of nutritional data, and many more. All of these points are subsidiary to the uncomplicated and simple goal of making sure the consumer receives a pristine product he or she can easily take home.
Sometimes, however, it may seem that things go a little too far. Without knocking packaging suppliers, there are some food items that appear not to need to be over-packaged or packaged at all. Many people are becoming increasingly concerned that a lot of extra packaging is winding up in landfill areas. Some of it could or should have been recycled by consumers, but really, some of it simply shouldn't have been created in the first place.
Does everything really need to be as packaged as it seems to be? Some claim that over-wrapped food items are one of the main sources of the piles of unnecessary waste that end up in landfill sites all over the planet. How many times has a consumer gone to a store and found a food item, like cheese for example, packaged inside a vacuum-sealed bag, on a foam tray, shrink-wrapped, inside a bag or sleeve? It seems unnecessary and it's starting to become a trend that causes concern. While some people are incensed by it, most people/companies/agencies don't even notice.
Nothing is cut and dry, though.
Even cases of over-packaging that seem pretty clear can be moved to a different context and at least appear to have a basis in sense, just not with regard to rising waste levels. The most common and stratifying example is that of potato chip bags. On one side of the spectrum are those that point to half- or third-filled bags and claim that producers are cheating consumers and that the product is over-packaged. On the other side we have those that say the bags are filled with nitrogen deliberately in order to extend freshness and offer safety from heavy breakage during transport. Which side is right? Well, a little of column A, a little of column B.
Take a look at some of these products available at the supermarket and see the pros and cons of their packaging.
Bananas already come in their own packaging. Banana peels are thick, tough, and durable. The thing is, most bananas are shipped in large bags to eliminate dehydration which are removed when they're sold. Individually wrapped bananas may seem stupid, but they can be put in vending machines alongside chocolate bars and cakes as a healthy snack alternative to fight rising obesity trends.
There is no hotter debate going on than that of bottled water. In places where tap water is clean and plentiful, the idea that bottled water exists seems like a joke. Water bottles account for far too much landfill. It's not difficult to refill a clean, metal water bottle and take it about. In places where tap water isn't clean, though, bottled water has saved lives.
Online stores are on the rise. Amazon is a great example of a company that tries to be eco-sensitive, but sometimes mishaps occur. Everyone that regularly makes purchases online has received a whoppingly large box for a small item (our CEO received this huge box for one light bulb). What's the answer? Improving logistics and fulfilment, something Amazon and other online vendors are beginning to do.
Cucumbers have a thick skin, so shrink-wrapping them seems ludicrous. Many people eat all or part of the cucumber peel, though. Having it shrink-wrapped can add a barrier that prohibits bacterial or fungal growth. Also, a cucumber can lose water weight after just a couple of days. Shrink-wrapping can keep a cucumber perfectly fresh for nearly two weeks. That means less food waste.
On the bright side, it should also be mentioned that there are many reasons for adding packaging to products not traditionally packaged previously. A lot of packaging is created to offer consumers added convenience, security and tamper-proofing, extending produce shelf life, adding extra barrier qualities against bacteria, etc. None of these goals are necessarily bad things, they must simply be weighed against the amount of extra packaging being created and how beneficial they really are. We can't move forward with the erroneous belief that by simply eliminating packaging, the job is done and there's no problem. This is simplistic. There has to be a viable equilibrium.