Thinking outside the box, about what happens to ‘the box’

by Tara Murphy

Montreux was so picturesque that it had us questioning whether this was ‘nature’ or just ‘our present nature’. Not everyone in the world has the luxury of the surroundings we’ve experienced over the past week.

Much of the pollution we see today is caused by industries and countries not managing their waste disposal properly. But what’s funny is that in the ‘west’, where roadside rubbish isn’t common and the local authorities take away household rubbish, there seems to be a lot more of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude towards waste. This rubbish is then transported to landfills in less-developed countries that are not capable of dealing with it. The irony is that in countries like India and Africa, where roadside waste is a norm, the lifestyle (market shopping and less affluent communities) isn’t highly wasteful, but the waste that is produced isn’t disposed of properly. This could be because of the lack of structure surrounding waste management, lack of education about recycling and pollution, or a behavioural flaw that highlights the people’s priority for subjective goals of individual survival/subsistence over what’s perceived by them as ‘objective’ goals of universal sustainability.

So why is it that developed countries produce more waste? A simple example of waste that literally ‘piles up’ is packaging. Almost all the products that the developed world consumes come out of a packet or a box, with the exception of fresh groceries. But not to worry, because, in the supermarket, we can put those into a disposable little plastic bags too!

Maybe it’s the health and hygiene standards or the consumer’s expectations that are to blame for the wasteful packaging. Packaging can keep food safer and fresher for longer, and in the developed world where convenience is key factor for a product, it is convenient for people to visit a supermarket once a week and pick up everything that they think they need without having to carry around a cold storage box for meat, or a separate bag for rice. But maybe it’s this lifestyle of ease and convenience that comes at the cost of the environment. But it doesn’t have to.

Sustainable packaging is being developed in the form of recyclable, biodegradable [vegware], and reusable (reusable coffee holders) packaging. There are now creative, yet often expensive, ways to turn non-recyclable packaging into sustainable products (ocean plastics into carpets), making coffee cups from organic polymers, and turning cardboard packaging into biodegradable seed carriers (Paul Stamet’s plantable packaging [Lifebox]). But it’s down to companies to adopt these packaging solutions with the nudge of the consumers, making these solutions cheaper with growing distribution and research. Having invented everything from the lightbulb to the internet, you’d think mankind would be able to come up with a creative and efficient alternative to packaging things in big unnecessary cardboard boxes.

Some interesting links:

Image: by socialmediasl444 on Flickr (Creative Commons)



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