Mrs Green has a packaging rant

Filed in Blog by on March 9, 2011 19 Comments
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Pen - 15 gms; non recyclable packaging - 75gms

Pen - 15 gms; non recyclable packaging - 75gms

You might remember I trundled to the post office last month with some ‘return to sender‘ type letters.

Any packaging which came into zero waste towers during January that was unmarked or couldn’t be recycled was sent back to the manufacturer with a letter asking them to responsibly dispose of the packaging and about any plans they had to improve recycling (or better still, reducing) in the future.

Well you know what? I’ve been thinking about the parker pen packaging and I have to admit I’ve been getting a bit hot under the collar about it.

Being a tad passionate about the whole zero waste lifestyle I weighed the packaging. It was 73 gms – almost as much as our weekly allowance during 2009. The majority of it was made from thick, brittle unmarked plastic.

I then weighed the pen; it was 15 gms!

This means the packaging weighed almost 5 times as much as the product I wanted.

Doesn’t that strike you as just a teeny bit wrong?

The product, the bit I wanted, the bit I wanted to spend my money on, seemed almost insignificant in the grand scheme of everything I had to buy.

AND I was buying it to reduce my dependency on disposable plastic biros. Grrrr.

As it happened I popped into the library this week and while I was waiting for Little Miss Green to choose her books I started browsing the latest Which magazine. There was a short article about a survey they had done on ‘supermarket bugbears’ and the number one complaint was too much packaging! I then found out that Which have a rogues gallery on their site along with lots of tips about reducing packaging waste.

I’ve been having a peek at their photos and some of them are not pretty. Some of them are so bad, in fact, that they make my parker pen packaging look positively angelic!

If you’ve bought a product you think is excessively wrapped, email details of the product and your photos to [email protected], putting ‘Excess packaging’ in the subject line and they’ll publish the best ones on their site.

Check out the rest of the naughties in their “Excess packaging” gallery and let me know what you think. Have you come across any packaging nightmares recently?

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth’s fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (19)

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  1. LJayne says:

    Interesting Mrs G. I totally take your point although I notice in some of the pictures on the Which website, at least the excess packaging is totally recyclable – there is one from Pampered Chef and one from Lakeland where, although the boxes are enormous, they’ve only been packaged with paper.

    I think perhaps it would be even better if they were concentrating on naming and shaming the companies, like parker, where nothing can be done by the consumer with the packaging that they are left with when they have released the product.

  2. Michelle Morgan says:

    Nice rant mrs G, it frustrates me too; when trying to do something positive, like cut down your biro intake; you end up with so much excess packaging, that your good deed is almost undone!
    I work in a farm shop; you would think that as a small, environmental business that really supports local produce, would support the idea of unpackaged; But i find cucumbers and peppers wrapped in plastic; cakes in plastic, plastic bags and film fronted bags for individual cakes. We also dont use a recycling bin!
    It seems so backward that a business or product with environmental ethos or benefit, uses so much packaging!

  3. Tracy says:

    While I’m as frustrated as the next person by excessive packaging, some things you have to think about:

    1. Packaging as marketing. Selling just one pen is probably hard.Think about the pen in the store. The excessive packaging could make it draw the eye and seem bigger than it is.
    2. Packaging to prevent breakage. I’m guessing this is a nice, expensive pen, being unfamiliar with it myself. Packaging has to be substantial enough to prevent breakage.
    3. @Michelle–Think about packaging as a way to prevent contamination and spoilage, when it comes to food. There was a recent buzz about Del Monte packaging bananas in plastic. Their take: it actually saved money and helped sustainability by decreasing waste.

    So the trick for packaging companies is to find packaging that protects, markets, and preserves their products while being reasonably small at the same time.

  4. Mrs Green says:

    @LJayne: Nice ideas; I didn’t spend too long looking at the Which photos and as you point out, recyclable packaging, although wasteful if it’s too big isn’t the end of the world… Perhaps I’ll add my pen to the photos 😉
    @Michelle Morgan: how frustrating Michelle; wrapping peppers is madness.
    @Tracy: hello Tracy, welcome to the site. Your point number 1is exactly the thing that annoys me. If I want a pen, I’ll look for a pen, dressing up a pen to look like its more is simply aggressive marketing. Interestingly this is a cheap £10 pen; so it didn’t need any packaging at all. I understand that sometimes packaging can help prevent food waste, and this is a good thing, but often there is no need for it at all. I understand cucumbers dry out without being wrapped for example, But things like coconuts and swede? That’s just done for convenience and many companies still have a long way to go in my eyes!

  5. Ben says:

    Parker pens have their good and bad side. I like that they sell affordable pens that are still nice to write with and encourage people to refill the pen rather than throw it out. They also don’t play planned obsolescence in the way so many companies do, parker pens from the last 30 years at least can still be refilled. I normally write with one of their rollerball pens and find the refills last ages, about a month, despite my writing a lot.

    The down side is that I have to buy the refills online in card packets of ten as in the shops you’ll typically find one or two refills, each on their own large card sheet and encapsulated in a hard clear plastic shell. I see no reason why they’re packaged like this. Making the product look attractive isn’t such a big concern as it’s a refill for an existing purchase, it doesn’t really need to promote itself or be tempting in that way. The refills could be sold individually from card boxes as many pens and pencils are, or just packaged two or three at a time in their own small card box.

    The original pens themselves, like the one in the photo, I can see why this packaging is good for sales and promoting the product. However, even without major changes the quantity could be reduced. The clear plastic shell doesn’t need to encapsulate everything, sometimes they’re just glued to the card to cover the product itself and can be peeled off. A much lighter gauge of plastic could be used too and it could fit the pen rather than create a a big void for it. They could also try something entirely new and sell the pens in a different way or with some new type of packaging.

    The other thing worth noticing about excessive packaging is that it takes up more retails space, collectively between so many of these product types leading to bigger shops that require more space, lighting and heating energy, plus everywhere through the distribution chain the number of these items that can be stored or transported in a space is significantly reduced. The waste issues go further than just the materials used to package something.

  6. Jo says:

    Good points there, Ben.

    Mrs G, your point about the pen being the bit you wanted to spend your money on made me think about how much of that money went to pay for all that packaging! It’s maddening!

  7. Andrea says:

    @Tracy:I agree with Tracy’s comments and would add another one. Theft is reduced by making the packaging larger. It’s very easy to take a pen out of an open box on a shelf and slip it out of sight. Not so much when it has bulky packaging around it. Unfortunately we live in a society where some people will steal anything, even if it’s of no use to them and shop keepers have a difficult time. This is why shops stopped selling products loose and went to packaged only.

  8. Kate says:

    I had a similar experience of the one-step-forward-two-steps-back variety when I switched to a metal safety razor from the replaceable plastic cartidge type. The razor itself came in a box inside a plastic bag inside another box filled with styrofoam peanuts and closed with plastic packaging tape. *Sigh*
    It was especially frustrating as I found the razor on a website recommended by an anti-plastics blogger.

  9. joddle says:

    Easter eggs are the typically most over-packaged item I can think of.

    The hollow chocolate egg is wrapped in foil, encased in plastic, and given form by cardboard. They must take up a lot of space in transit too, which seems wasteful.

    The packaging makes the chocolate look better value for money but I believe it is around 30% more expensive

  10. Teresa says:

    I buy disposable pens but I go to a shop where they are sold loose and not in bubble packs. Fancy expensive pens can be too uncomfortable to hold when writing because they are often made with hard plastic or metal and don’t get me started on those jewelled pens. The plastic covering with disposable pens tends to be softer or flimsier. The greenest thing would be too write with pencil.

  11. Ben says:

    Easter eggs are getting better. As of a few years ago I could finally buy eggs without the bulky plastic shells by hunting around a bit and now big companies seem to be cutting back the packaging too. Cadbury eggs this year have been a positive surprise as they have removed the plastic shell and downsized the boxes too. When you consider the large volume of eggs they sell each year, the absence of the plastic shells and less card in the box will relate to a big reduction in packaging waste this Easter.

    Aside from these benefits, it also gives us a high profile example to point out to other companies when we talk to them about their packaging. It also opens the possibility to tell Cadbury that I really like their new packaging, but also remind them that more can be done. I’m going to ask them if they use recycled card in the box and if not have they considered setting a minimum amount?

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Ben: Excellent points Ben – about Parker not building in obsolescence and the fact hat refills don’t need to be attractively packaged because you either want them or you don’t. And I’d never quite put it together that more packaging requires larger premises. Very thought – provoking; thanks!
    Let us know what Cadbury say to you (you might even get a free case of eggs!)

    @Jo: You’re right! I’, beginning to feel the packaging cost me more than the pen! It certainly cost the environment more 😉

    @Andrea: Hi Andrea; I understand your point, but under the counter sales would put a stop to this. I remember buying my first fountain pen from WHSmith as a child and they were all in a display cabinet. When I’d made my decision I was given a pen from under the sales counter. Easy! (and more personal service 😉 )

    @Kate: Oh Nooooo, that is *so* frustrating LOL!

    @joddle: I used to think the same although I am seeing many more Easter products now just wrapped in foil. It’s definitely getting better but I think the higher end products are still pretty wasteful with packaging as it’s all about creating an illusion about how much you get for your money.

    @Teresa: I use pencils a lot, Teressa when at home and save the pen for writing cheques or letters. I agree about the jewelled pens 😀

  13. stephen says:

    Parker Standard Piston Fill Converter

    Pump action refillable cartridge suitable for all Parker fountain pens, except Esprit. Enables use of bottled ink instead of cartridges.
    this seems to be a better eco friendly option for your pen you can get bottled ink in recyclable glass bottles, parker pens don’t make the profile pen any more…..

  14. stephen says:

    I hadn’t heard of these before, and i had no idea exactly what they were or how they work, but its really simple. Its very easy to use, effecient and clean. It even looks quite good though no one gets to see it. I recommend this because with fountain pens u really fly through the ink cartridges but after buying this, you save quite a bit of money. If you love fountain pens, you’ll love this.and theirs no packeting on the ink bottle £3.20 amazon and pump £3.50

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @stephen: I have a converter and managed to get ink in a glass bottle with, what appears to be, a bakelite top (although I can’t believe it is in this day and age!). Originally I bought the converter because it fits ‘all parker pens’; only it didn’t fit the one I had which came from my Grandfather. I was so disappointed as I love that pen and especially the fact it belonged to him and he used to do it for all his accounting – I thought a little money luck might rub off on me 😀

  16. SherryGreens says:

    Kids toys. Hands down. It is so annoying. I posted about it once months ago, and now so many people are referred to my blog by searching something like “reduce toy packaging”. Even regular people see how ridiculous it is. You have inspired me to write some letters or make some phone calls to these toy manufacturers. I like how amazon.com was offering some “hassle free” packaging for toys, where the manufacturer would package it in a simple cardboard box, instead of a plastic shell with a million twist ties and cardboard box around that. So much of our garbage is packaging, we have to start voting with our consumer dollars to see some change!

  17. Kate says:

    @SherryGreens:
    Don’t know what it’s like there but where I live there are resale shops where we get almost all of our toys and clothes and things. Cuts down on the packaging (of course, when the toys were new, I’m sure they came encased in thick plastic, etc., like you’re talking about, but we just get everything used if we can so I’m not really sure…).
    We did get a new wooden playset for Christmas as a gift, and although it was beautiful it did have millions of twist ties. Beyond being a lot of trash it was just irritating to open!
    I agree that we should be voting with our consumer dollars.

  18. Teresa says:

    The bubble packs are the most annoying not just because they are wasteful when it comes to simple items such as a pen but technical ones such as cameras and headphones as well as you’re left without a box to keep it and the spare bits in.

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @SherryGreens: Oh I hear you on the kids toys – it angers me because many of us do what we do for our children’s future and yet children’s toy manufacturers are some of the worse offenders – all designed to make kids think they are getting more than they are…

    @Kate: I remember once Christmas spending over 3/4 hour getting into one of Little Miss Green’s presents! Fortunately she was very good natured and patient about it, but if she had been in a firey mood it could have been disastrous!

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