How Excess Packaging is Causing a "Catrashtrophe"

If we could look into an old general store of a century ago we would see that there have been some big changes in the way we shop.

We certainly have more choices and products now, but the variety is also accompanied by a lot more trash. A hundred years ago there were no plastic containers, aluminum cans, foil packets, poly packs, blister wraps, styrofoam trays or shrink wraps. There were no six pack cartons, plastic overwraps or resealable plastic clamshells.

The person behind the general store counter would not have asked if you wanted plastic or paper bags , because you would have brought your own basket or cloth sack to carry your purchases home.

Brown Paper packages tied up with string...

If you did buy something that needed to be wrapped -- like a nice wedge of cheese cut from a wax-covered wheel, it might have been wrapped in some brown paper and tied with string.

Both the paper and string could be saved and re-used for something else, when you got home.

Recycle, Reuse

Old glass and metal containers also found new purposes in a household.

Flour, rice, and other dry foods came in large cotton bags, which later became dishtowels, curtains or even diapers.

Likewise, burlap sacks full of feed or beans, would be put to another use, once empty.

Today it seems like half of everything we put in our grocery cart, consists of excess packaging that immediately goes into a trashcan, and eventually to a landfill.

We can understand that the innovations in modern packaging came from good intentions to preserve freshness of products, to extend shelf-life and to avoid contamination, but often the packaging has become overdone.

I bought a packaged nutritional supplement the other day. It was over-wrapped with cellophane. The box had an interior panel which separated the plastic jar from an empty space that made the box look larger. The plastic container had the number of tablets listed-- but was more than twice the size it needed to be.

General Store -Mariposa Museum and History Center

 General store photos by Linda Gast
General store photos by Linda Gast

Throwaway Society

People have been moaning about the evils of throwaway society for decades-- yet it seems that there is an ever increasing problem with the disposal of trash, and much of it comes from the grocery store.

Even though more people than ever are doing some recycling, either voluntarily or under the pressure of legislated ordinances, our landfills are overflowing. This would not be so bad if the "trash" were mostly biodegradable, but most of it seems to be plastic.

If you live in the city or suburbs-- your trash "just disappears". If you live in a rural area where you have to personally haul your own trash to the landfill, you may be more aware of the huge problem trash is causing. You may also notice that disposal fees are rising

Things you can do to bring home less trash:

  • Concentrate. --More products, like detergents and cleaning products are being concentrated and sold in smaller containers that use less plastic.
  • Bulk up --Bulk bins for cereals, nuts, grains and other dry foods eliminate a lot of packaging, and are also less likely to use additives and over processing.

Old fashioned bulk bins. You used to find rice , beans and other staples in these.
Old fashioned bulk bins. You used to find rice , beans and other staples in these. | Source

A Few Easy Steps

Use your own bags.

It takes a little getting used to, but more people are starting to bring their own cloth bag or use a sturdy cardboard box for groceries.

Some businesses are starting to charge a fee for plastic bags or even eliminating them altogether. Other stores have special containers where you can at least leave old plastic bags for recycling. A store near me actually gives a 5c credit for each resuseable bag you bring to use.

Buy more fresh, unprocessed foods. Even fresh fruits and vegetables are more and more beginning to be packaged in plastic containers. Look for unpackaged produce. Shop at a farmers market when you have a chance.

Avoid styrofoam trays. Some markets are reinstating the old fashioned butcher counter where fish poultry and meats can be selected and wrapped in butcher paper-- no styro tray. You might give vegetarian fare a chance, maybe even if only once or twice a week.

Do you bring your own bags to the grocery store.

  • Yes, always-- or almost always.
  • Yes, sometimes.
  • No, but I'll think about it.
  • No. It doesn't make much difference, anyway.
See results without voting

Use What You Have

Self- sufficiency.

If you live in a place with a little land you might try some vegetable gardening. Every food item you can grow cuts down of packaged food to buy. If you can keep a couple of hens-- you won't have egg cartons to toss out.

Compost.

Your garden will love coffee grounds and the peelings and trimming you don't have to put in the garbage.

Re- use containers.

If you have a certain item that you buy regularly like peanut butter in a plastic jar, wash and reuse the jars to organize nails, nuts, bolts, or sewing and crafting supplies.

Some pasta sauce jars come in re-useable canning jars. If you don't do canning, save them for someone who does.

Use fewer paper towels and napkins.

Buy a bunch of inexpensive washable dishcloths to wipe up spills or use for napkins instead of buying so many paper products.

When you shop, look for items with less packaging.

What do you do to help stem the flow of trash? Please add your ideas.

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Comments 8 comments

jimcrowthers profile image

jimcrowthers 8 years ago from Port Charlotte

Great article!

I personally don't typically have enough trash to throw away to make a regular sized garbage bag full for at least a week, sometimes two. Also, fortunately in my area, they have regular recycling pick-ups, and the grocery stores accept the used plastic bags that they originally gave to you. They hate it when I come in, however, because I save them until they overflow my container, and bring them in all at once!


DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

Me, too. I wait until my plastic bags come tumbling out from the cupboard under the sin =k where I store them before I take them back. I have just "discovered" our county farmer's market and plan to do a lot more shopping there. Fresh, cheaper, and no wrappings.


robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

Fabulous, Rochelle--I'm with you 100%--except for growing veggies--I buy from local farmstands instead:-)

Great information and advice. I've linked this hub to my latest on a similar subject. Go have a look. http://hubpages.com/hub/Living-Green-in-America-Th...

I'm looking forward to more from you. This one gets a thumbs up:-)


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks Jim, Donna and robie2. I think more people are starting to think about these things.


Dottie1 profile image

Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

Definitely becoming more aware of the need and love the idea that the garden will love coffee grounds, peelings and trimmings. Thanks and thumbs up.


Pam Pounds profile image

Pam Pounds 8 years ago from So Cal Girl in the Midwest!

Hi Rochelle - I do a little bit of many of the things you talk about here.  While I still use the little plastic bags when I buy fresh vegetables at the market, I reuse them for storing the veggies after I wash them (lettuce for example), and then I also use them to pack my lunch in during the week.

Then they end up in my recycle bin.


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Really good advice!!! We've begun to take a second look at our trash. My daughter did an environmental speech on how to reuse trash and won first place.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks RGraf, why don't you reycle some of her ideas ans make it a hub?

Thanks for you many comments on my hubs.

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