By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
Any idea how much packaging we throw away in every household across the United States?
The volume of plastic waste and packaging amounts to approximately 75 billion pounds per year, according to the Butte Environmental Council, an education, advocacy and recycling organization in northern California.
In this country, plastic represents roughly one-third of municipal waste. Fifty to 80 percent of the littler collected from roads, parks and beaches and 90 percent of floating marine litter is plastic.
During the last decade, Americans wasted 7.1 million tons of cans – enough to manufacture 316,000 Boeing 737 airplanes.
Figures like that make my head hurt, not to mention the harm to our planet. And the irony of this?
It’s estimated the global food packaging industry is worth approximately $115- billion-a-year and growing 10-15 percent each year.
As the amount of packaging increases, so does waste and environmental costs, not to mention the added costs to consumers. The plastic bottle containing your favorite soda or the aluminum can that holds your favorite brew costs more than the cola or beer.
On average a beer can or bottle costs five, six, seven maybe 10 times the cost of the beverage. The same is true for sodas. It depends on the company and the product.
Convenience, marketing and profit come with a price – additional waste for this nation’s landfills and the rest of the globe. In this country and other wealthy nations, a decrease in the size of households has resulted in more people purchasing smaller portions of food and that means more packaging.
A higher living standard around the globe has also resulted in the desire to acquire and eat “exotic” foods from other lands. Transportation of such food and the ability to keep it fresh also costs more in packaging.
Another contributing factor is the desire for convenience food. You know that processed, tasteless food you can pop out of your freezer, microwave and eat in a jiffy.
Encouraging sustainable packaging requires changes not only in our lifestyles but in our habits.
While it’s only a start, as consumers we can buy more local product that is better tasting, has less of an impact on the environment through reduced transportation costs and supports our local economies.
Support companies that use packaging most efficiently. Avoid buying disposable items, such as non-refillable razors, alkaline batteries, etc. Recycle. Buy in bulk. Reuse shopping bags and buy only recycled products.
Change comes with personal responsibility and the ability to look in the mirror and say, “It’s up to me.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.