GOB 76 – Good Things Come In Less Packaging

GOB 76 – Good Things Come In Less Packaging

(This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)

Today I bought what I thought was an ordinary box of tissues at the supermarket. I’m an old-fashioned red-spotted handkerchief man really, but Hawkeye finds 101 uses for these throwaway um-necessities. It turned out, when unpacked from my ‘bag for life’ that there were in fact two smaller boxes with a plastic wrapper holding them together, presumably for some bog-off. When unwrapped with the lid punched in to get at the tissue I found that the hole is surrounded by a redundant soft plastic inset.

While at the supermarket the post had come including a padded package with a book in for me to review. The book had been bubble-wrapped despite the fact that the envelope was padded with plastic bubbles too. [Note to all book stores and publishers of, in particular natural history books, post books out in cardboard or ‘Jiffy Bags’ that are padded with flocking].

Why would a birding magazine column be taken up with a rant about packaging you may well ask?

Because we are squandering the future and today’s wealth on unnecessary and potentially dangerous packaging. Canned drinks in sixes or dozens are apparently ‘convenient’. Are we really incapable of counting off to six to put in the trolley. Instead they are clad in cardboard, shrink-wrapped in plastic or held together by half a dozen lethal plastic loops that I have seen strangling gulls.

Plastics now line the alimentary canals of half the creatures swimming in or under the ocean, or those flying above it. Nylon cord, fishing nets and fishing line may make quite good nesting material but it is equally good for slowly sawing through an entangled leg or gill.

A recent news story covered thousands of bright pink bottles being washed up on a West Country beach as if this was unusual in anything but the neon colouring. Fishermen and other voyagers have always thrown their waste into the sea… but in the past that waste was either biodegradable or incapable of being ingested. Amphora from classic times may litter the Aegean seabed but they do no harm. Polystyrene cups, plastic bottles and a myriad of assorted plastic junk is, when intact, a hazard for thousands of years and an unwanted dietary supplement when it finally disintegrates.

We treated ourselves to a new ‘smart’ TV for Christmas, and recycled our old TV to the wall of a relative. The box for the new one went with it, including huge polystyrene packing, plastic ties and baggies. But it doesn’t have to be like that, the last electrical item I bought used nothing but cleverly folded cardboard to do the job

None of the above is really for my, or your convenience… its all about storage and display. Oranges used to come in crates with tissue paper or nothing at all… now they are presented in Styrofoam bras plastic shrink-wrapping. Every cabbage has a plastic bag of its own.

New is now the virtual opposite of improved. How does putting mushrooms in a plastic box and wrapping it with polythene make it better than being in a cardboard trug as they used to be? Fish and chips were perfectly healthy when wrapped in recycled newsprint.

Where do we start to fight back? The obvious answer is birdfeed. I buy my seed in paper sacks, but fat-balls seem now only to be sold in a plastic sleeve, a plastic bucket or a plastic tub. Get your fountain pens out, fill them with ink from a bottle and put pen to paper (better yet send an email) and demand less packaging in birdfeed and refuse to buy anything unless it is in non-plastic, recyclable containers.

We do not have to be slaves to packaging any more than we have to put up with wonderful wildlife TV having to be completely ruined by unnecessary and over loud background music…. But that’s another story.

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