Column: More sustainable packaging beneficial for everyone

May 7, 2014

Commentary by Jacqueline Schaefer

Imagine you are hungry, starving, haven’t eaten in two days. You rush to the store to get some food, because, for some strange reason, you don’t have any food in your college dorm. You’re craving potato chips, so you by several dozen bags. And then you buy some cereal for good measure.

You quickly run to the checkout, pay for everything, sprint to your car and drive home as fast as you dare. As soon as you get inside, you rip open the bag of chips, madly intent on devouring every single one. But wait, what’s this? Your bag is full of… air?

There are no chips to be found! Just a bag of air and a few scattered salt crumbs. Livid, you call the chip company and they coldly inform you that each bag of chips is inflated with air for packaging purposes. Disheartened, you hang up the phone and cry. All you wanted were some chips.

While the above scenario may seem ridiculous and far-fetched, it does have an ounce of truth in it. Most, if not all, college students have opened a bag of chips and been disappointed to find it half empty, the empty space taken up by air. And although the packaging says the air is included for safety or freshness, I believe a smaller amount of air is required to keep the chips fresh and whole. Especially since approximately half the chips are broken, even with the extra air.

However, the real problem is not extra air; the problem is packaging. Most companies in the U.S. package their products in a way that wastes resources and drives up the price.

Think about that cereal you bought in the above scenario. If it came from Wal-Mart, it most likely had your cereal in a bag that was inside a box. However, are both these packages necessary? The plastic bag is sealed, yet so is the box. What if our cereal came in just a bag with the label printed on it? Or better yet, just a recyclable box? Some companies sell bulk amounts of cereal in a bag. But I think the best solution would be to have each person supply his or her own cereal container. Simply bring it to the store when we need more and fill it there. The store’s container would have a counting mechanism that would provide a price sticker that each customer would give to the cashier.

Implementing this system would save many resources. Instead of throwing away lots of useless packaging, consumers would be reusing their containers and therefore keeping trash out of landfills. With today’s population growing at alarming rates and producing more trash, we cannot afford to be wasteful.

But a reason that might be more persuasive than saving the world would be saving money. Since the cereal contains less packaging, each company will spend less to distribute the cereal. This in turn will lower the price and save consumers money. Also, because you only buy as much as you need, you will not be wasting money by buying too much food and having it go to waste. The money saved on buying food could lead to higher spending on other items, which will stimulate the economy and create jobs, pulling us out of the recession.

Therefore, companies should invest in smarter packaging to save the world, save money and save customers from empty bags of chips.