What would you expect to be delivered in 24 separate boxes? A new kitchen? What about a new dinner set? Ex Which? Convo editor Hannah Jolliffe returns as our guest to debate over-packaging.
Believe it or not, Tesco recently packaged an order for a 24-piece dinner set into 24 separate boxes. And as if that isn’t ridiculous enough, each individual box was then packed inside a bigger box.
‘After everything was unwrapped we couldn’t even see the floor. Then when we actually opened them there was masses of paper. I know they need to be protected to avoid breaking, but the ironic thing is that despite all the packaging, they still managed to break five items.’
Needless to say, Tesco has responded to say that the delivery was a one-off mistake. Maybe so, but we’ve seen enough examples of excess packaging in recent years to know that this isn’t an isolated incident.
Excess packaging is an ongoing problem
OK, it’s unusual for so many boxes to arrive, but smaller orders are routinely packaged in boxes that are way too big and then require masses of plastic and paper to pad them out to prevent breakages. Putting the issue of shameful waste aside for a moment, surely it’s safer to pack items more tightly in a box to prevent them from jigging around in transit?
We highlighted the problem of excess packaging back in 2010 (when I used to work at Which?). With lots of input from our readers we put together a gallery of photos of over-packaged goods. The results were comical – they ranged from a tiny battery in a box big enough for a printer, to an unbreakable eyeliner and concealer surrounded in enough bubble wrap to protect the entire contents of my mug cupboard.
That was five years ago and I know for a fact this problem isn’t going away. Just last week I got very excited when a huge box arrived wrapped with Carluccio’s tape. What could it possibly be – an early Christmas present? Sadly, no. It was a free gift I was entitled to from a magazine subscription – a bottle of balsamic vinegar! My children spent the next 30 minutes popping the six sheets of totally unnecessary bubble wrap it came in.
Seriously bad for the planet
It’s easy to see the funny side of these examples, but the environmental implications make this a serious issue, too. UK figures are hard to find, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency (PDF), containers and packaging accounted for 30% – or 75.2m tons – of total solid waste generated in the US in 2012. And Stanford University says we discard our own weight in packaging every 30-40 days, on average.
Some are taking strides to change the tide – from biodegradable packaging to reducing unnecessary items such as printed manuals. There are many great examples of other companies addressing everyday packaging problems, too.
But as Black Friday arrives tomorrow and Christmas follows not too far behind, this should be an issue that’s at the forefront of our minds. How can our goods be packaged more responsibly and what schemes can be put in place to better reuse and recycle the bits that get chucked out?
This is a guest post by Hannah Jolliffe, freelance editor and ex-editor of Which? Conversation. All opinions are Hannah’s own, not necessarily those of Which?