Plastic Packaging Is Good for the Earth?

Plastic Packaging Is Good for the Earth?

Trent Johnson
Feb 18, 2010

What if someone told you that plastic packaging was actually GOOD for the earth? In opposition to the environmentalists who are trying so hard to live packaging-free (See How to Live Packaging-Free), there are actually some who argue that it's greener to use packaging. See the argument, after the jump.

Writer James McWilliams of the New York Times' Freakonomics blog writes that plastic-wrapped fruits are a good thing. The argument? That the 1.5 grams of plastic (in the case of cucumbers) extends the life of a fruit or vegetable significantly. In the case of cucumbers, it's 14 days instead of just three. Apples, potatoes and grapes sold in shrink-wrapped trays ends in 27% waste "from home to orchard." According to McWilliams, "the longer food lasts, the better chances there are of someone consuming it."

McWilliams states that what really does matter when it comes to saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is our behavior in the kitchen. It comes down to us, the consumers, who let food go to waste. McMillian quotes a study that "U.S. consumers throw out about half the food they buy." If each of us went to the grocery store daily and purchased only locally produced food that we needed for the next couple days, we'd negate the need for all the fancy shelf-life extending packaging. But most of us don't have the time, money or energy to do so.

His disclaimer is that in a perfect world, sure, we'd all eat locally produced food, or even produce our own but we don't. In urban areas, it'd be darn near impossible to produce your own food and even buy all of it locally.

McWilliams also argues that we can make an impact by choosing foods that are designed to ensure that we use the entire product. He cites transparent containers (bagged salad, milk bottles, ketchup), re-sealable containers, smooth surfaced containers and containers we can turn upside down as positive packaging accommodations that allow us to use all of their contents. Containers such as individually packaged yogurt, or grooved / non smooth packaging inhabits our ability to get every last drop, and thus, wastes food.

This response article on DailyFinance argues that wasted food, when composted, helps offset the "waste phenomenon" as stated by McWilliams.

So what's your take? Are you sold on the case for packaging?

(Image: Flickr member natecardozo, Licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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