Being Green: Identifying Green Packaging.

January 25, 2009

I missed out last Green Friday (and the Friday before that, due to Internet downtime, so I thought I’d fill in today.  Come to think of it, I think I did iLOL’d today, too.  I’m starting to slip on my schedule here.   Let this be a lesson to you folks: Never let Internet downtime get in the way of your blogging, because it seriously borks your schedule.

But on to identifying green packaging.

I’m not just talking about paper packaging, although it’s often greener than plastic alternatives.  Nope, there are certain other qualities to look for in packaging that make them greener.

The first and most obvious one is: Is this package recyclable?  If you’re not sure, examine the label.  It should have a triple-arrow sign (the little triangular one) with the word “recycle” somewhere nearby.  If it’s plastic, it may also include a notation as to what type of plastic it is, but sometimes not.

The second thing you should check is: Is the package refillable?  It’s greener to keep re-using the same package over and over than it is to keep tossing stuff into recyclables.  Recycling, though useful, still uses up energy and produces carbon; reuse requires no such effort.  Most packages, like hot-dog wrappers, obviously aren’t refillable, but clean produce bags, water jugs, and rechargeable batteries (think of them as containers for electricity) can be used several times over before you have to toss them.  You might even consider buying dedicated containers for some of your favorites – rather than cycling through several fragile convenience-store drink cups, buy one good mug that will last you for years.

Next thing you want to check: Can the package be cleaned easily?  You can’t re-use a dirty wrapper or box, and recycling dirty things leads to low-quality products.  A decent rinsing to remove any food particles is usually sufficient, though you may want to treat some packages for oils.  (Wow, that sounded professional… what I mean is that you want to rub a little dish soap on the greasy parts and rinse it off in warm water.)

Another good option you might like to look for: Can I reuse the package for something else?  Around here, we save cottage-cheese containers and breadbags and use them to store frozen foods.  Aluminum food cans are used to hold small crafting objects or tools (not that we don’t recycle a lot of those, too).  There’s no point in hoarding mass amounts of containers, but it’s nice to have a few for various purposes.

Of course, there are some materials that just can’t be reused or recycled, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for these.  Anything that combines two different materials (like paper with a plastic or metal lining) can’t be recycled; neither can Styrofoam.  There are also certain plastics that don’t lend well to recycling; dyes and fillers are costly and difficult to remove, and biodegradable plastics have an adverse effect on the quality of the recycled product.  Then there are certain plastic types which just may not be supported by the recycling centers in your area; these can include plastics with the triple-arrow sign.

Another thing you want to watch for is wasteful packaging.  This refers both to packaging that wastes itself (excessive packaging) and packaging that promotes quick ruin of the product.  Excessive packaging includes plastic-wrapped fruit as well as many old-fashioned toy packages.  For product longevity, choose packages that minimize oxygen contact (for meat) or allow some breathing room without too much exposure (for fresh vegetables/fruits).  Also avoid buying food in quantities larger than you can use, unless you plan on freezing the excess for later.  For nonperishable products, choose bags and boxes that fit their contents well and cans in quantities that you consume before they go off.

Of course, no packaging is greener than the nude, but for products other than fresh fruits and vegetables that just isn’t going to work.

(As an afterthought, this and the follow-up article on recycling are considerably more complex than eliminating vampire power. Nonetheless, they are considered Green Basics as they are easier to incorporate into your current routine than other trash-reduction methods.)

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