In Parts 1-3, I highlighted some of the mixed messages about packaging. This included the United Nations encouragement for developing nations to use some packaging to help minimize the waste through to UK government initiatives to reduce used packaging going to landfills. In Parts 4-6, I will examine a few more typical problems and then go on to comment on some of the trends currently gaining popularity and comment on how we are making things more difficult for ourselves.
I can remember an age where there was a deposit charged on every bottle sold, and it was commonplace for people to take back a bag o box of bottles to recover the deposits paid. I also can remember that, for those who could not be bothered to take them back, I would scrounge the bottles so that I could take them back and earn some extra pocket money. Then, one supplier decided it was too much trouble and, if they thinned down the glass thickness of the bottle, they could dispense with collecting, washing and sterilizing the bottles and the savings in staff, cleaning chemcials, heating and size of plant meant they were saving money, too. From this point, there was a decline in the general population expected to return bottles for reuse. It is interesting to see attempts to reintroduce this system and how much harder it is to introduce the system than it was to dispense with it.
So, you want dirt with your potatoes?
Another memory is of buying potatoes. They were never in plastic bags and often not washed. Depending on where they were grown, some would almost be self-cleaning because of the sandy-based soil whereas those grown in a clay-based soil could have lumps of earth still stuck on the potatoes. Some sellers would not remove the lumps of earth, and so the customer would be buying both the potato and the dirt. Others, who sometimes charged a premium, cleaned off the worst of the lumps. Mostly customers would arrive at the shop or market stall with a string bag, and the potatoes would be weighted and tipped straight into the bag. There was the flexibility of buying any odd weight of potatoes or buying by the number of potatoes, which compares to today’s plastic bags of potatoes where the customer has to accept the weight chosen by the supplier rather than by their needs.
Supermarkets like to sell food in packs as it reduces time at the checkout as the number or weight of items does not need to be determined, which is slower than simply whizzing the pack past a UPC scanner. Also, it encourages purchasing more than necessary; how many people need a pack of six lemons for Shrove (pancake) Tuesday. As a practicing glutton, I am perfectly happy to overindulge in too many pancakes until I have finished all the lemons, but for many they will use what they need and the rest will go to waste. It is interesting to see that now supermarkets are providing special aisles where it is possible again to buy some items without them being packaged.