Liberals seem to think they are scientists because they know the earth is getting warmer and it is due to the reckless use of fossil fuels by humans who don’t yet drive electric cars with lithium batteries or have solar panels on their roof or wind turbines in their yard. All these alternatives require rare earth and other minerals which are mostly available in lands other than North America, where coal, oil, and natural gas remain in abundance. If they were scientists, they would realize that there is a way to reduce our fossil fuel energy consumption significantly with the stroke of a pen in an Executive Order, without creating a dependence on rare materials or changing our life style. In fact, most Americans would also be rewarded with monetary savings.
The Executive Order would be directed to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and would regulate food packaging, requiring that all containers be no larger than the minimum essential size to keep the product safe and intact. No plastic fillers, spacers, or empty gaps would be allowed in any package. No odd sized boxes or inflated Mylar bags designed for maximum visual display on store shelves. Additionally, the cost of the packaging should not exceed the necessary cost of the product it contains. In other words, 1ȼ worth of product should not come in a 15ȼ aluminum can or pressurized bulletproof wrapper — which takes two people with a box cutter to open – and then goes in the trash.
There are still a few of us left walking the earth who grew up at a time when coffee came in cans or bags of one pound increments, cookies came in two pound boxes, and gift chocolates came in one or two pound boxes. Today, coffee cans contain variable amounts from 10 to 12 ounces, cookies range from 8 to 11 ounces, and gift chocolates are 8 to 12 ounces. Yet the packages are as grand and larger than when they contained full pound measures. Space is taken up with plastic filler and inserts, usually made from fossil fuels.
Of course, these fillers overload our plastic recycle bins each week, and huge trucks, powered by fossil fuels, pick up the packaging materials for separation, processing, and further shipping to other plants that use fossil fuels to create more packaging. The amount of weekly recyclables far exceeds the volume of other garbage which consists of biodegradable food waste. It is anyone’s guess, but it would seem that the energy consumed by this recycling industry far exceeds the energy conserved by reuse of the recycled material. It also means that most of that packaging serves no purpose other than wasting shelf space in stores, to visually attract mindless customers — like cartoon character breakfast cereal boxes as big as the toddlers who get hyped up on all that sugar.
Here is a classic example of this situation. A popular brand of chocolate candy which has been around for almost two hundred years still comes in familiar gift boxes. In the late 1950s, customers had a choice of one pound or two pound boxes to purchase. Each piece of candy came in a little paper pleated cup. The box was filled with nothing but candy, tightly packed so there was no shipping damage. Today, that same-sized two-pound box contains only 12 ounces, and the candy pieces are in plastic trays, which fill most of the box. In celebration of their longevity, the company annually produces a commemorative box that contains two pounds of candy and an 8-ounce booklet. But the box is exactly seven times the size of the box that used to hold two pounds of candy over fifty years ago.
As an experiment, I bought one of these commemorative boxes and transferred all the candy into an old two-pound box from decades ago. (Yes, I still had the old box hanging around.)
Two-pound candy box from 2016 (top) and 1961 (bottom), closed (left) and opened (right)
Entire contents of 2016 box placed inside original 1961 box, with fillers removed
The demonstration above is a typical example of almost every product on grocery store or drugstore shelves these days. The primary goal is to sell product through visual stimulation or nudge marketing, not quality or quantity. The cost of all the packaging and filler, in most cases, exceeds the value of the product, even before you add the cost of disposal or recycling the packaging. Do we all agree that the cost to the environment is huge and tragic because it is entirely unnecessary and completely controllable? We do not need the excessive plastic fillers.
With these chocolates, the current package is 700% bigger than necessary. Just imagine if we could reduce all product packaging by a mere 50%. This would result in stores that are 50% smaller, with energy requirements that are 50% less, delivery trucks that are required 50% less often, warehouses that are 50% smaller, and 50% fewer shopping trips by customers. Even transportation costs for on-line purchases could be reduced by 50%.
If the Food and Drug Administration were to restrict package sizing as they control package labeling, we might be able to reduce our use of fossil fuels significantly. Most importantly, it could be done with the stroke of a pen, as opposed to creating entirely new industries that are far more wasteful of earth’s rarest minerals. All products, from aspirin to zwieback should come in packaging designed to deliver the most product in the most efficient manner. As a bonus effort, the FDA should ban all bottled tap water. Consider how many gallons of fossil fuels it takes to create the plastic bottles, fill them with tap water in one part of the country, and drive them in huge trucks to another part of the country so the water can stagnate on store shelves until a thirsty customer comes along. Meanwhile, most consumers flush their toilet with fresher and purer water at home every day.
As a culture, we have permitted marketing to take over all common sense when it comes to consumer packaging and one way or another we are all paying for much less that has the appearance of more. It’s not only wasteful, it’s senseless.