Reduce Packaging Waste

How to Reduce Packaging Waste and Choose Sustainable Packaging Alternatives

Some of us get a certain kind of pleasure from unwrapping a new dress shirt and peeling back the plastic and cardboard on a package of makeup. But whether or not you’re a sucker for neatly wrapped retail products, you’ve likely already realized how wasteful the problem of overly-packaged items really is. This article not only highlights the issue with packaging but how you can reduce your packaging consumption and start looking for eco and sustainable packaging alternatives. 


Problems with packaging

  • There are three types of packaging: transit (wooden pallets, plastic wrapping, etc used to transport large batches of goods), secondary (cardboard and plastic used to wrap larger cases of products), and primary (the packaging you find on the product you bring home).
  • Containers and packaging makes up over 30% of the average American’s trash bin, most of which is not recycled.[1]
  • In the EU, more than 64 million tones of packaging waste was generated in 2001, which was 8% more than what was generated in 1997 despite a 53% recycling rate.[2]
  • Packaging represents wasted resources (petrochemicals, trees, chemicals, water) as well as transport emissions (the heavier the product, the more greenhouse gas emissions emitted).


How to reduce packaging waste

Packaging materials can be made from metal, glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, and other mixed materials, with paper and cardboard making up the largest portion.[3] And while some regions have adopted sustainable packaging waste reduction strategies to reduce the quantity of packaging and implement effective recycling programs, see the EU’s Directive on packaging and packaging waste and the Australian Packaging Covenant, the North Americans have yet to follow suit to the same extent. Nevertheless, there are some very simple things you can do to reduce your packaging waste and choose more environmentally friendly packaging options:

  • Look for unpackaged consumer goods: Many companies have put in a lot of effort to reduce their packaging to zero. When the option is available, take it!
  • Bring your own containers: Whether you’ll need a water refill while at the park or are looking for ways to take your restaurant leftovers home, you can reduce packaging waste by bringing your own reusable containers like glass water bottles, stainless steel coffee mugs, and collapsible food containers.
  • Select products in refillable containers: Some personal care products and food items can be purchased in refillable containers like glass jars and reusable plastic bottles.
  • Buy in bulk: Real bulk items are those in a single large container (refillable is even better) that holds many individual servings. Don’t confuse bulk with many individually-wrapped items bundled together in one large palette, though.
  • Look for recycled packaging: Wrappers and boxes made from post-consumer recycled materials are definitely better than virgin-made packages, though this option should come only after you’ve looked for ways to reduce your packaging waste.
  • Choose lightweight packaging: Minimal packaging is always the best and can significantly reduce the materials needed for packaging, the fuel needed to transport an item, and the energy needed to make it. Aluminum beer cans made with 12% less metal saved Coors 637 tons of aluminum.[4]
  • Seek out biodegradable packaging: This type of packaging is usually made of some sort of corn-based plastic that can be broken in a commercial composting facility (not your backyard compost pile) that reaches very high temperatures under just the right conditions. However, currently these types of containers cannot be sent to the recycling facilities with your regular plastics (they contaminate the recycling batches) and are therefore ideal only for those with curbside composting pick-up.



Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, And Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008. (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2010, from US Environmental Protection Agency:

2  Effectiveness of packaging waste management systems in selected countries: an EEA pilot study. (2005). Retrieved June 28, 2010, from European Environment Agency:

3  (Packaging recycling information sheet)

4  Fact Sheet: Eco-Efficiency and Packaging Waste Management. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2010, fromEco-EfficiencyCentre:

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