I have been trying to be a conscious consumer in recent years. And part of that includes trying to buy things with the least amount of packaging per volume (within limits of what I actually want to consume).
Here’s an example. The unit price of the item is the smaller number in the bottom left of each price tag. One can see quite quickly that although the larger one litre yoghurt has less plastic per litre content, it costs actually more to purchase (per litre) than the half litre yoghurt pot (29.06kr/L compared to 28.33kr/L). Not a big difference so not a big deal. Just take the one that suits your need then right?
Admittedly it’s hardly a big difference. And one could certainly use the public health argument that bigger is not better because of the overconsumption it often leads to (I’m thinking of soft drinks here but maybe the argument applies to healthier products too).
But it goes against the economies of scale logic whilst simultaneously contributing to increased levels of plastic rubbish. Far from all plastic is being recycled in Norway today (6kg of an approximated 22kg plastic waste produced per person per year in the Trondheim area). And even that plastic which is being recycled is usually being downcycled into products not suitable for food packaging (because of plastic type contamination). What I mean to say is that it should be a no-brainer that producing less plastic has a reduced environmental impact.
In the same fridge was a better example to support my case on plastic. The portion sized yoghurt pots (there are 4 in a pack) cost only 2/3 of the larger 500ml yoghurt!
So whilst such examples are not uncommon, I realised I got tricked recently when I was wandering around the beverages isle. At first glance I thought that the 1L mulled wine concentrate costs 10kr less than the 200ml mulled wine concentrate. What a rip off!
But on closer inspection, the smaller flask is much more concentrated and produces 20L of drinkable product whilst the larger flask produces only 3L. This is reflected in the per litre price, which I happily realised reflects the amount of drinkable stuff rather than the concentrate volume. So it’s an unfair comparison, this was a case of apples and oranges.
The case of plastic got on my mind again just a couple of days ago when The Guardian released an article commenting on the UK’s consumption of disposable plastic shopping bags after the introduction of nationwide 5p levy. The reduction was drastic. An 85% reduction in plastic bags was observed.
So why shouldn’t the same principle be applied to plastic packaging for other products? Washing machines, sports equipment, takeaway food and many other items are packaged in copious amounts of plastic but there is no apparent levy on producers here. There is of course a lack of choice in many cases (consumers cannot choose to buy their tennis balls without a bag). Takeaway is one area that could be changed a bit easier…but if a plastic packaging fee was being levied upon producers/suppliers from the government it would at least get them thinking about reducing costs through smarter less wasteful packaging.
Which gets me to my last point. Many environmentally conscious shoppers (and probably many others too) will have probably at some point noticed a marketing message on their plastic bag explaining how environmentally friendly their plastic bag is compared to others.
But instead of 100% talking the talk (and 50% walking the walk) like Jysk on the left in the example above, they should be walking the walk like the Salvation Army does (in the bag to the right – with 100% recycled material). Environmentally conscious packaging is a growing industry but could receive a real boost by legislation that pushes for biodegradable or recycled shopping bags in combination with the levy for consumers.