The top ten Christmas gift packaging offenders

A news item that I put up today (“Kootenay pushes full EPR for ‘product waste'”) points up something that’s been on my mind as my wife and I buy and wrap presents in preparation for Christmas. (For your convenience, I’ve pasted the article at the end of this blog item.)
I imagine that even people not in the waste and recycling/composting business have the same thoughts as they wrap and unwrap presents on the Big Day: What a nuisance all that packaging is, and what an environmental burden. Of course, the packaging of toys and various doo-dads shared at Christmas are not dissimilar to the consumer items we purchase and discard throughout the rest of the year — there’s just an intensity around Xmas that really brings home the message that we sure do consume and waste a lot.
My guess is that in addition to each family’s regular Christmas traditions, there is also a “garbage tradition” beyond the trip (for some) to church, and the usual tree, turkey, egg nog and so on.
In our house, the “garbage tradition” includes getting out a big green garbage bag that we place in the middle of the consumer orgy room, er, I mean, living room. As the presents are opened, any waste packaging is shoved in there. By the time the consumer orgy is over, the towering dark bag is like a hideous green twin to the Christmas tree (which in our case is also made of green plastic). In the old days, before I became enlightened, the garbage bag would be put out with the trash. Now, of course, its contents get sorted into the recycling bins, and only a minimal amount is sent to the landfill. Another new part of our Christmas “garbage tradition” is that we now put most of our gifts in colorful gift bags, the contents disguised with a little crepe paper inside. The bags can be reused over and over, which is very politically correct, and I wish I could say we did it because we’re environmentalists. Truth is, we do it because we’re cheap! This is the same reason we now send email Christmas cards instead of paper ones to friends and relatives. Actually, that’s not because we’re cheap, but because we’re lazy.
Before I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (and a Happy Hannukah and Kwanza and everything else folks celebrate) I’d like to offer my my all-time most hated forms of wasteful, irritating packaging. In David Letterman style, the list goes from least to worst offenders:
10) Packaging inside other packaging. The cardboard box that encloses the plastic toothpaste tube is a good example. There are hundreds of others
9) The little easy-to-lose-in-the-(wind/car/grass) plastic sleeves around the straws on the outside of Tetra-Pak juice boxes. There must be billions of these floating around in the environment by now, making their way from children’s hands through minivan doors and windows to the bottom of far-flung oceans and (by now) the Arctic (along with our toxic and greenhouse gases).
8) “Squeezable” plastic containers for condiments like mustard and ketchup. In fact, “squeezable” anything!
7) Styrofoam or polystyrene used to protect inexpensive items. (Okay, I understand it for thousand-dollar TVs, but there’s still way too much of this stuff in use.)
6) Non-resealable packaging for items that you’d like to store in an open-and-close container (e.g., finishing nails). Typically these have a plastic front and a cardboard back, and hang neatly on store displays. I’m willing to pay MORE for the same items in resealable, reusuable packages. (You hear that, hardware manufacturers?)
5) The boxes that contain computer software and video games. (I mean, seriously, you open them up, and they contain a CD or DVDas thick as a credit card — the larger box is entirely for advertising display.)
4) The shrink-wrap around CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes, etc. You know — the stuff you try to open with your finger nail or tooth, and ALWAYS have to eventually open with a pair of scissors (which are never easy to locate). “Where are the good scissors?!” is a more common holiday refrain than Jingle Bells.
3) Packaging around Barbie dolls and other figurines that, if opened, destroys the resale of value of the item for collectors. How stupid is that? How many dolls addicts have little mortuaries of dolls stacked shoulder height in their basements, their contents forever peering out through their plastic windows, unloved, like Snow White in her glass coffin, except in this version when the handsome prince comes, instead of kssing her he sells her on eBay.
2) Aluminum cans: This probably should be number one. This metal is smelted in highly energy-consuming plants, after being strip mined and processed from bauxite. Okay, let’s use it to make light-yet-rigid airplanes that fly for 25 years (and then get recycled) — but it’s a crime against the world to use it to make soda or beer cans for one-time use. (Yes, they are recyclable, but after all these years of proselytizing, half — HALF! — still end up in the landfill.) If I was garbage czar, I would order all soft drinks to be sold in refillable PET containers like they do in Germany. Having written this means I now have to check under the hood of my car before I start it up, for the rest of my life. But someone has to say it.
And the Number One most offensive packaging is (drum roll)…
1) Action figures, motor cars and other toys sold in cardboard boxes, with clear plastic windows, buffered with styrofoam, and held in place to the rigid backing with about a dozen annoying wire-and-plastic twist ties that take about ten minutes to deconstruct while your five-year-old cries and grabs impatiently, before you then have to hunt for the tiny eye-glasses Philips-head screwdriver to open the compartment to insert the batteries, which by now you realize were embedded in a niche in the styrofoam that is now at the bottom of the garbage bag, and…ARGH…you know the rest of the story (and will relive it again in a couple of days…)
Happy holidays everyone!

Kootenay pushes full EPR for “product waste”
The response to the first unilateral action by a local government in North America to “return all responsibility for the management of product waste” to senior levels of government was applauded by the Athens, Georgia-based Product Policy Institute.
“Product waste” is all the manufactured goods and packaging or “made stuff” discarded in our society which local governments are typically responsible for managing or regulating. Product waste is contrasted with “organic waste” or “grown stuff” such as food and yard trimmings.
The local body, Kootenay Boundary Regional District (KBRD) in British Columbia, Canada, wrote provincial Environment Minister, Barry Penner in August. In the letter, KBRD Board Chair, Rick Hardie, acknowledged British Columbia’s leadership in the use of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies, but said that KBRD’s goal of achieving “Zero Waste” would be difficult if not impossible to reach unless EPR is extended to a broader range of products.
“The underlying problem,” Hardie said, is “that Regional Districts have been given responsibility for managing the discards of our consumer society without being given adequate authority to do so in a way that doesn’t impact the local taxpayer.”
At their Thursday meeting the KBRD Board heard the Minister’s response: “I agree that product waste is an appropriate definition for the ultimate scope of EPR programs which would leave local governments with the responsibility to manage only materials such as: garden or food waste for composting; organic based waste; and demolition, land clearing and construction refuse,” Minister Penner wrote.
“The Board is very pleased with the Minister’s commitment to expand EPR programs in British Columbia to encompass all product waste,” said Raymond Gaudart, Resource Recovery coordinator for KBRD. “Over time this commitment will relieve taxpayers of the ever increasing cost of managing consumer discards and will provide an incentive to manufacturers to design their products with recycling in mind. Kootenay Boundary will continue to press the province for timely expansion of EPR programs.”
“This is the start of a new trend we will see much more of,” said Vancouver-based Helen Spiegelman, president of PPI. “Municipal recycling and landfilling of products is not only costly to taxpayers; it is welfare for the producers of wasteful products and actually encourages production of more waste.”
Both letters are posted at
About The Product Policy Institute (PPI)
The Product Policy Institute (PPI) is a nonpartisan research and education nonprofit organization promoting policies that advance sustainable production, consumption and waste management in North America. PPI is working with local governments to develop policies and programs that conserve resources and reduce local taxes by transferring responsibility for product waste management back to the makers of products and their customers. Website :
Contact Info:
Helen Spiegelman
President Product Policy Institute
Raymond Gaudart
Kootenay Boundary Regional District
Product Policy Institute
P.O. Box 48433
Athens, GA 30604-8433
Tel: 706-613-0710