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Egregious Packaging Hall of Shame: Styrofoam
Photo © David Gilford
Styrofoam is one of the world’s most environmentally unsound packaging materials – not only does it stick around in the environment forever (I’ll never forget swimming around a beautiful fresh-water lagoon in the DR, picking up tiny bits of foam that had found their way there), it’s super toxic to produce, clogs animal digestive tracks, contributes to ozone depletion, it’s made from non-renewable petroleum, and it leaches chemicals into food, especially if microwaved; and that’s not all! Fortunately, there’s a handful of innovative companies who are kicking the material to the curb – read on to learn about some inspired alternatives to the styrofoam scourge!
When writing, researching, and generally being nosy about the whys of sustainable (or supposedly sustainable) products and their associated packaging, once in a while I run up against the absolutist argument. It goes like this: I am asking (many, many) questions of a person who has many years of experience in a certain industry, and when I ask them why they are knowingly continuing a practice that’s unsustainable, they say, “Because there’s no other way to keep it cold/keep it from breaking/preserve it/meet our bottom line demands.” And then they look me in the eye and say something (condescendingly) like “It wouldn’t be very eco-friendly if we had to make twice as many cause half of them broke/rotted/melted, would it?” Reporters just love rhetorical questions, don’t you?
This absolutist argument comes from the mindset that the way something has been done is always the way it should be done (ie. it would take too much time, trouble and possibly some creativity to come up with a better solution). It is the excuse I’ve most heard for the continued use of styrofoam, for example. And it just ain’t true. One of the places I’ve continually heard that styrofoam can’t be replaced is in packaging for computers and electronics, and furniture. These items become worthless, or nearly so, if even minorly chipped or broken.
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