In 2008, each person in the U.S. created 4.5 pounds of household solid waste each day. Containers and packaging made up 31% of that waste. Minnesotans recycle some of that waste (we recycle around 40% of what can be recycled), and we should all continue to recycle when we can.
However, the importance of preventing waste-by using a low- or no-packaging option-is even more important than recycling! Let’s look at the example of bottled water.
A 2009 report by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality compared life-cycle energy used by different drinking water options. The study confirms that while recycling bottles is environmentally preferable to disposing of them, drinking tap water in a reusable bottle or glass is the best environmental choice: If you recycle an average single-use water bottle, you will reduce life-cycle energy consumption by 24 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 16 percent, compared against purchasing and disposing of the same water bottle. But consuming the same quantity of water from the tap in a reusable bottle, even if washed frequently, reduces energy consumption by 85 percent and greenhouse gases by 79 percent!
The report also recommends that if bottled water must be purchased, you should choose the thinnest bottle and purchase water that is bottled locally.
Select products with the least wasteful packaging
You can find ways to reduce your packaging waste every day. Think about your options and choose the lease wasteful packaging option available. Many grocery products have equivalent options with different packaging.
Michigan State University School of Packaging conducted a study on the waste reduction benefits of buying less-packaged items. The study suggests that if residents in a city the size of Minneapolis bought the least-packaged equivalents of 10 common household products (e.g., cereal, juice, pasta, tuna, etc.), the city could reduce its trash by 150,000 tons per year.
In short, given two equivalent products, choose the one packaged more simply, with no packaging or with a single, reusable or recyclable material. Your choices a difference!
Comparing waste and cost
Reducing packaging may also save you money. In 1992, waste reduction staff at the MPCA quantified the waste and cost associated with different types of packaging by choosing identical products of the same brand that were packaged differently from various departments of a typical grocery store. They found that prices for many of these items were up to 50 percent higher than their less-packaged counterparts. And, in some cases, buying reduced packaging options can result in as much as 99 percent less packaging trash.