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Wednesday, April 25, 2007 02:32 pm

Packaging waste

Put the responsibility on manufacturers instead of retailers and consumers

Containers and packaging make up nearly a third of the solid waste we generate.
Untitled Document There is so much waste in packaging — from water in self-serve bottles to all the foil and cardboard wrapping for new print cartridges. What is being done to make packaging more “green friendly,” including cutting out as much of it as possible?
Thanks to forward-thinking action by the European Union, people around the world are beginning to recognize that wasteful packaging puts unnecessary stress on the environment. In 1994 the EU issued a “Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste,” putting the responsibility of waste reduction and reclamation on manufacturers instead of on retailers, consumers, and local governments. The program, popularly known as “Producer Pays” or “Extended Producer Responsibility,” requires product makers to either take back their packaging (consumers can leave it behind in the store or send it back in the mail at the producers’ expense) or pay a fee to an organization called Green Dot that will handle it for them. Green Dot is now the standard take-back program in two dozen European countries. The concept has been adopted by many industrialized nations — including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan — but not yet by the United States, which could certainly benefit. Here, we keep piling on. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that municipalities generated 88 million tons of solid waste in 1960. By 2001, that number had climbed to 229 million tons, with containers and packaging making up almost a third of the weight. Maine, which has initiated its own “Producer Pays” program — the first in the United States, requires electronics makers to fund consolidation centers where used TV and computer monitors are sent. Some U.S. companies are also taking initiative. Microsoft worked with Packaging 2.0, a packaging-solutions company that recycles used materials into new packaging, to develop an environmentally responsible and reusable package for its line of GPS consumer-electronics products, and a number of other companies, including Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, Microsoft and Nike, have come together under the umbrella of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a project of the nonprofit GreenBlue, and released a guide for designers and developers to assist them in designing sustainable packaging. In February 2008 Wal-Mart will implement a “packaging scorecard” to measure and evaluate its entire supply chain. Goals include using less packaging and using more sustainable materials in packaging. According to Wal-Mart, the company is already beginning to make headway. “By reducing the packaging on one of our patio sets,” says the company Web site, “we were able to use 400 fewer shipping containers to deliver them. We created less trash and saved our customers a bundle while doing it.”

For more information: Green Dot, www.packaging-waste.com; Sustainable Packaging Coalition, www.sustainablepackaging.org. 

Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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