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Question of the Week: What do you do to reduce or avoid “overpackaging” in products you buy?

2008 November 10

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Product packaging is crucial for protecting food or other items that we buy from contamination or damage. But packaging uses materials and resources that can affect the environment. When is enough enough? November 15 is America Recycles Day.

What do you do to reduce or avoid “overpackaging” in products you buy?


En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

El embalaje de productos es crucial para proteger los alimentos y otros artículos que compramos de contaminación o daño. Sin embargo, envases, envolturas y embalajes utilizan materiales y recursos que afectan el medio ambiente. ¿Cuándo estos embalajes se convierten en algo excesivo?

¿Qué hace para reducir o evitar el exceso de envolturas y embalaje en los productos que compra?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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61 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeanette Wrenshall permalink
    November 16, 2008

    I love this topic. I once dumped my garbage at a green lecture at our municipal hall to show how to reduce our garbage. Our garbage can does not have a bag in it because we do not put wet into it. The wet goes into our kitchen worm factory. I’ve kept worms in the kitchen for 21 years now. My orchids bloom 3 to 4 times a year because of the compost tea. The garbage people don’t seem to mind us not having a bag. We buy based on packaging. I collect bread bags and others that I get that I can’t control, and use them to fill with bulk items and fruit and veggies. My son’s school lunch does not contain any disposal containers or plastic bags. We cook with whole foods as much as possible with most meals vegetarian. We grow a lot of our own veggies and some fruit. Planting veggies when flowers once grew. And of coarse we have cloth bags in the car. If we forget them we fill the shopping cart back up and wheel that to our awaiting bags in the cart.

  2. Christine Smith permalink
    November 17, 2008

    Mostly for me, the packaging question is a tie-breaker. If I’m trying to decide between two products and I’m not really sure which to choose, then I’ll often say, “well, X has less packaging, so we’ll go with that one”. Only if the packaging is really excessive do I avoid it completely.

  3. AndyO from NJ permalink
    November 17, 2008

    Overpackaging frustrates me a lot. So… my 1st thought is do I really need/want this item? Can I get it with less packaging? Then I look for alternatives. These questions need to be balanced against time and extra travelling. The Amish Market oftens packages meats or cheeses in paper instead of plastic; so if it’s an item to be used right away, then this is a better choice. I like “mom & pop” hardware stores where I can buy nuts, bolts, etc. loose instead of being packaged. Then I put the items with receipt in my pocket. I often refused bags when purchasing other item (milk, greeting cards, things that can be carried without the need for a bag). And then I take my own bags on shopping trips to avoid excess baggage. I suppose that writing to manufacturers & distributors can’t hurt tho’ I don’t do this much.

  4. Lamont Cranston permalink
    November 18, 2008

    I am always concerned about what seems like the ‘waste’ of wrapping paper. To me it’s just another layer to open… at an extra cost. I try to use newspaper (sunday comics) as much as possible, but can never seem to fully eliminate it :/

    I agree with trying to reuse things as much as possible :(

  5. Sally G permalink
    December 22, 2008

    LOL! Let’s overpackage the federal government to avoid overpackaging!

  6. Sally G permalink
    December 22, 2008

    That’s cool! I also remember the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. We buried an internal combustion engine at my high school. (Just think of the environmental damage we did to the school yard, but our hearts were in the right place!) On a more positive note, my HS conservation club started a recycling program for newspapers, glass bottles (sorted by color back then, and with aluminum rings snapped off the neck) and aluminum cans. It was therapeutic tossing those bottles into barrels and smashing them! Our little program in front of the HS led to the town’s recycling center, still going strong and with a municipal curbside pick-up program. Who would have thought back then that alternative energy would have been a subject of debate in a presidential election! We’ve still got a long way to go, but (to borrow an advertising phrase from a toxic product of those days) “We’ve come a long way, baby!” (Virginia Slims cigarettes)

  7. Sally G permalink
    December 22, 2008

    Paper cups are just as bad in the regular trash going to a landfill, and many don’t recycle them, especially if they’ve held soup, chili, or something similar. Whatever happened to “bring your own mug”? Or dining halls with dishwashers (which would even employ a couple more students)?

  8. Sally G permalink
    December 22, 2008

    I haven’t had the guts to do this, but I do refuse extra bags and encourage cashiers to “bag heavy” without double-bagging. I generally take a canvas or plastic bag to the grocery store.

  9. Sally G permalink
    December 22, 2008

    When I go Christmas shopping, I make a game of getting as few bags as possible. I’ll generally bring one big shopping bag and refuse a bag no matter what the store. If they insist, I’ll let them put the product in a bag, then take it out and leave the bag.
    I generally take a canvas bag grocery shopping, buy fresh produce (without putting it in a plastic bag, unless it’s a wet herb), almost never buy individually wrapped items in a multipack (the only individual-serving item I buy is yogurt, and that’s Stonyfield Farms), buy in large containers, (keeping in mind that I’m shopping for one person only, with no freezer).
    I recently found the cardboard-packaged CDs with liner notes printable from the Internet—what a great idea!

  10. Jay permalink
    April 16, 2009

    It is quite sickening if you think about how much plastic and paper products is thrown away every day. Our government should offer incentive programs to the big companies that offer GREEN solutions to this major issue at hand.

  11. Paul Cross permalink
    October 5, 2009

    I dont do anything to avoid overpackaging. In fact I always look for products that have the most packaging because I like being wasteful. I dont care if it hurts the environment because I will be dead before my actions affect the environment.

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