Melissa Todd: Just how much packaging do you need?

Do we really need so much packaging...

Packaging. You can’t buy much of anything in Broadstairs but lattes, baubles and tapas, so my recycling bin’s full of it. Reams of cardboard, paper, plastic, those styrofoam bits that look like Wotsits and taste quite like Wotsits too (look, I was tipsy and too tired to cook, ok?)

If you want books, CDs, shoes, cooking equipment, stripy tights, a money box shaped like a hedgehog, you go online. We all do it, not just me.  My postman husband needs constant back rubs, physio, pills and sympathy from lugging all the stuff you need, or want, or clicked in despair at 3am when your life seemed scarily lacking, all the way from sorting office to front door.

My friend Amanda purchased a paring knife online recently, approximately the size of my thumb: I can only assume she supplements her income with the occasional mugging. The box it arrived in was closer to the size of my torso, and I’m not even short. It’s insanity. Times all that extra cardboard by all the millions of us with computer access and an urge for new kitchen equipment: that’s an awful lot of tree.

‘Acres of paper’

Indeed, husband tops this anecdote by telling me how he once delivered a TV remote control in a box the size of a 50 inch old style analogue TV, wrapped in acres of paper and bubble wrap to protect said remote from its ludicrous spacious carry case. Why on earth do companies do it? Surely it represents an extra cost, more packaging materials, bigger vans?

At Amazon HQ, where workers are expected to package 300 items an hour – that’s one every ten  seconds, maths nerds –  is it any wonder they snatch at the closest box to hand? Hard to care about the planet’s future when your job’s on the line today. Much use trees and air must seem to the warehouse worker, trapped in a floodlight filled warehouse the length of ten football pitches, ten hours at a time, soon to be wearing devices that monitor their every minuscule move; human rats in a laboratory maze, their working day governed by targets, fear, sanctions.

Bad enough for them, but for the rest of us, long-term, the consequences will be devastating. The packaging our online shopping fetish generates makes a powerful metaphor for our sick society – instant gratification, at any cost.

The need for change

Whatever the impact or damage tomorrow, the customer must be made happy today. All your little heart could desire, all transported to your home in less than 24 hours, undamaged, perfect, seemingly untouched by human hands, all for good reviews and five star ratings.

We need to change this. Money shouts. Complain, publicly: post pictures of your insane overpackaging on social media: make it clear you will not give your cash to companies who abuse the planet so recklessly. And of course, where at all possible, shop locally: support your community, plough income back into your fellow townsmen’s pockets, rather than some faceless, shameless, tax dodging entity.

1 Comment

  1. There’s a real need to stop the continuing destruction of the world’s rainforests but obviously Amazon doesn’t care about that. It seems that their overworked packing staff should be retrained in which size of box to use which is more suitable for the item concerned and exactly how to protectively wrap it without chucking in a whole tree to do it. I had a mop delivered from this company; it arrived in an enormous box and I eventually found the mop which had been buried by about 8 yards of twisted brown paper. I was not impressed!

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