Earth Day: Packaged for the Masses

Oscar the Grouch at  home in trash can.

Like us, Oscar the Grouch lives in a trash can. But at least he is green.

[we’re giving the Earth a bad wrap]
I’m feeling guilty.

Two days ago, I discovered I was running low on razors.  Just some simple razors to cut hair off.  (I won’t admit to where the offending hair is.)  I felt particularly stupid having not gotten some during my last visit to the drug store and didn’t really want to make a second trip.  I admit it.  I was too lazy to get into a machine that would take me the half mile to the drug store.  So,  I took a chance and looked at Amazon.

Lo and behold, I found the exact same razor pack my drugstore sells.  Only Amazon sells them in “superpacks”.  The superpack is a triple package, basically like buying in bulk, but each package contained the usual 12 razors plus a bonus razor which my drug store packages didn’t even have!  And here’s the kicker:  this superpack was retailing on Amazon for less than 3x the cost of the individual package in the drug store.  And that price doesn’t even include the 3 bonus razors!

I would actually be paying less – even before the bonus razors – by buying through Amazon.  Throw in that (a) I wouldn’t have to pay sales tax on the products and (b) they would be delivered right to my door and all of a sudden it became a no-brainer.  Mohammed didn’t have to go to the razors, the razors would come to him.

Lazy?  Ha!  I was a smart consumer. I was actually saving money by not going to the drug store. What a great country! Think about it:  I was having a special shipment of razors sent directly to me.  How can that be more efficient than having a bulk box of razors shipped to the drug store where they have regular deliveries anyway?

Please, don’t interrupt my euphoria about price.

Well, today, on Earth Day, I get the package.  And I mean, literally, it was a package.  The box was about 5 times the size it needed to be.  And because the box was nearly empty, Amazon decided to fill it up with air.  But not regular air.  Air that had already been sealed in fresh plastic bags.  The plastic bags prevented the plastic razors from tumbling about in shipping, protecting them.

From what I’m not sure.

Small Gillette razors; large Amazon box.

The anal retentive vendor: Amazon lovingly placed each Gillette razor pack on a little pillow of air for the dangerous journey from warehouse to my front door.

So here I am staring at all this excessive packaging – on Earth Day.  Never mind that now I have to think about biodegrading plastic pillows that shouldn’t have been birthed in the first place, I am thinking about all the energy – lost forever – turning out such useless packaging from perfectly decent wooden trees and plastic plants.

Amazon isn’t the only company to use excessive packaging. Just last week I ordered some very hard-to-find ear gel tips for my bluetooth set.  Basically, these are little pieces of soft plastic to keep the bluetooth set in your ear.  This time, I felt I was saving energy by not running around store-to-store to search for the elusive item; I went straight to the Internet, found a great deal – and it had free shipping!  How can you beat that?  The deal was so good, I ordered 3 packs.  I figured I’d get these little lightweight items in a small envelope (after all, it was free shipping), but here is what arrived:

Plantronics bluetooth ear pieces overpacked

Trees gave their lives for this? The 3 packs of bluetooth ear pieces could have slid into an envelope, instead they came in a 12"x12"x4.5" box. The heavy paper gave the package some weight (so the shipping scales showed something was inside the box?). The displayed rule is for reference.

Okay, let’s forget that no packing materials were needed to protect the pieces.  At least this vendor didn’t kill plastic plants to make little plastic pillows of air; they used biodegradable paper.  Unfortunately, the packing paper weighed more than the product that was shipped. Why was good energy spent moving what amounts to useless trash across the country?   I dunno.  I just know one thing:  More guilt.

And these aren’t isolated examples of our needless waste in packaging.  Del Monte recently announced they were going to be packaging bananas.  Yep, bananas.  The thing that already had a package which was the result of millions of years of evolution.  You’d think after millions of years, the package would be perfect. But it didn’t involve plastic.  Enter Del Monte.

While we’re on the subject of bananas, let’s talk Apple.  A company that isn’t really about technology but rather about lifestyle.  That’s how hip it is.  It’s so hip that its customers like to play counter-culture to the “boring” technology of the “corporation”:

How can you watch that commercial and not think Apple is hip? I mean, Apple’s CEO even walks around in cool black turtlenecks all the time.  But alas, Apple is just as bad as any other company when it comes to pointless packaging – worse, in fact.  Apple uses so much packaging material for their products that their customers routinely create “unboxing” videos.  Yes, people really roll film showing them peeling away the many layers:

Worse yet, tens of thousands of Apple fans actually watch stuff like this!

You’d think that Apple’s fans would be hip and trendy… and green.  But a fascination with packaging is not green.  It’s anal retentive… with a possible dash of OCD.  (Apple is also very bad in terms of energy usage – rated the worse tech company, in fact – but that’s another topic.)

We are a nation of compulsive unwrappers. Is it any wonder that even a homeless person in America has 2x the average carbon footprint of a world citizen?  It takes a mountain of materials and energy just to produce the wrappers on his fast-food meal.

I tried to console myself amidst the pile of cardboard and plastic from Amazon.  I needed to rid myself of the guilt for merely participating in society. When I went to the grocery store later in the day, I decided to buy those re-usable sacks.  I felt very proud: I’m was going to cut the number of plastic bags needed to support my existence!  So there I was, feeling very green, handing my still-creased re-usable sacks to the cashier for packing.  The woman behind me in line remarked:

“Oh, you use those bags instead of the plastic ones… have you ever won the prize?”

She was referring to the weekly raffle the store had.  You could only enter if you brought your own sacks.  A simple, but clever,  promotion to encourage the most trivial of environmentally sound practices.  For those that didn’t come pre-guilty like myself.

“I just got these,” I replied.

“Well, I used to come in with those re-usable bags,” the woman continued.  “But after 4 months, I never won the raffle, so I figured what was the point and went back to the plastic bags.  It was much easier.”

Most people are willing to treat to the Earth well.  For one day a year.  If convenient.

And if they win a prize for their efforts.

Because nothing is more fun than unwrapping a prize.

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5 thoughts on “Earth Day: Packaged for the Masses

  1. I actually get anxious when packages like that show up. I’m with you on the guilt and then,….. the freaking work to break it down and dispose of it responsibly is just another 10 minutes out of my day. Minutes that I just don’t have ’cause I’m fighting with the packaging on my son’s new remote helicopter toy! who twists that wire holding the toy at every 2 inch mark?!! Is it a human doing that? I actually hope it is. I hope someone somewhere is at least getting paid to make me insane.

  2. […] the battery in the original version and still can’t conveniently do it in the later ones (so much for the hip, creative Apple customers being green) […]

  3. […] the environment (via wasteful packaging). […]

  4. […] as green as the next guy with foot fungus.  I’ve written about the environment before and before that.  But the numbers – about which the contrarians apparently know nothing – don’t support […]

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