Q: Why isn't it mandatory that packaging for all products be recyclable?
A: They call this the season of giving, but when I run "Christmas" through my trusty environmental translator, it spits out "waste of packaging." Such a shame, considering all the other ways we could be giving of ourselves.
As it stands, between late November and December, our garbage output spikes by 25 per cent. You can blame much of that on all the layers of plastic and cardboard wrapped around food and gift items.
It's hard enough to break into those PVC blister packs responsible for "wrap rage" and so many scissor incidents, let alone recycle them.
So your question is especially pertinent as sleigh bells start to jingle, oh, wise one. Shouldn't everything we buy come in recyclable packaging, or none at all? No doubt about it. That's why Toronto's waste peeps are looking to ban all non-recyclable plastic bags and takeout food containers.
They city would try to ban more, but it only has legal authority over packaging slapped on within our borders. It can't, for instance, tell Panasonic to dump the excess polystyrene encasing its Chinese-made flat-screens.
The feds could. They just don't. Oh, sure, we had a voluntary packaging reduction protocol thingy in the 80s, and, yes, government stats insist that did reduce packaging, but take a look around: if the problem were solved, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
You'd be better off bending the province's ear. In fact, the enviro minister has recently invited the public to comment on Ontario's Waste Diversion Act. You have till January 15 to tell them how to get to zero waste while getting producers to take full responsibility for the junk they make. (To post an online comment, punch 010-4676 into enviro registry site www.ebr.gov.on.ca.)
More cheery news: the enviro minister is also working on getting packaging producers to pay for 100 per cent of blue box costs, not today's 50 per cent.
Beware, though - the subject is full of grey zones. For one, if we demand that all packaging be recyclable, how do you define "recyclable"? Mississauga has traditionally recycled way more items than Toronto does. And Toronto accepts way more in its blue bin than, say, Sarnia.
Instead of just pushing for recyclable packaging, we may need to take a fresh stab at tough packaging reduction laws. After all, recyclable packaging isn't necessarily ever-green. Much of the plastic wrapped around your nephew's Xmas wish list items is recyclable, but it's made with virgin petroleum-based materials. Wrapping paper is recyclable but made with virgin wood pulp.
The solution? Time to climb to the next rung on the green ladder, kids. That's right: reducing and reducing. At the personal level, buy less. Make stuff from scratch. Hold open Re-Gift exchanges swapping years of dusty old presents instead of giving new ones. Actively seek out and buy the products that don't come with any packaging at all. And every time you pull out your wallet, ask yourself, "Do I really need this? What will I do with it when I'm done with it?"
And when you do buy something, make sure you let that company know you want it to take responsibility for its packaging waste. Tell managers and consumer hotlines that you won't keep supporting Acme So & So if it doesn't change its ways. Punctuate your point by dumping packaging at the store.
Of course, some smarter companies are voluntarily shrinking their packaging, since it boosts their green credentials and makes good business sense. I hate to give the small-town-smothering corporation credit, but Wal-Mart's target of reducing packaging by 5 per cent by 2013 is having a massive impact. It's forcing suppliers to use Wal-Mart's scorecard ranking packaging on greenhouse gas emissions, recycled content, transportation requirements and more.
The corp is even holding contests like the Home Entertainment Design Challenge, which Hewlitt Packard just won by ditching the cardboard box its Pavilion notebook came in for a usable messenger bag made of 100 per cent recycled pop bottles. And wouldn't you know it, HP needs 25 per cent fewer trucks to ship those laptops.
Now we just have to convince the rest of the world how logical this all is. In the meantime, have a packaging-free holiday.
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