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Avoid products with excessive packaging

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Give priority to purchasing unpackaged products and save the earth's precious resources.

The average Australian consumes 90 kilograms of resources in packaging each year. This is almost double the amount of many European nations. Along with this consumption comes the generation of huge amounts of waste - so it's not surprising that Australia is one of the worst waste generators in the developed world. Reducing the amount of packaging we purchase can help to significantly reduce our use of natural resources (including water and energy) and minimise the amount of waste going into landfill.

How to do it now!

This can seem like a tough one - so much of the stuff we consume comes smothered in packaging. But we all have the power to purchase products without any packaging, or with minimal packaging only. We need to think about what we buy and choose carefully.

Understand your purchasing power. We can all make an impact on the environment by shopping wisely. If you choose products without packaging, the producers will get the message and cut down on the unnecessary stuff.

Avoid packaged products. Where possible, choose the least packaged product. The following ideas are just a start:

  • Fruit and vegetables. These come in their own beautiful packaging and don't need anything but a basket or reusable bag. Avoid buying any fruit or vegetable that comes wrapped in plastic.
  • Breasts. Breast-fed babies are less prone to childhood ailments and don't require all the unnecessary packaging and accessories associated with bottle-feeding. So for the first six months of their lives (at least) give your kids the breast start! Try the Breastfeeding Association for more information.
  • Second-hand products. Pre-loved items have a second life in more ways than one. The reuse of products shepherds the earth's resources, saving those used in production and transportation of brand new ones. We also avoid using extra resources for packaging (see our Get rid of your second-hand goods action). An added bonus is that when you buy pre-loved items from opportunity shops, your money goes to help those in need.

Buy in bulk. Reduce the amount of packaging you consume by understanding what you buy and turning toward bulk purchases. Grains, flours, nuts, beans, fruit, vegetables, cleaning products, toilet paper and many other household products are sold in bulk at some supermarkets, food co-ops, markets, wholesalers and at many health-food stores and ethnic groceries. Check out our Buy local and seasonal food action for locations that may sell fresh local food in bulk.

Large airtight plastic and glass containers are good for storing bulk items and can be located at wholesalers, supermarkets and hardware shops.

While large bulk buys might not be for everyone, you can still save at the supermarket by avoiding individually wrapped products and single serves. Try to go for the largest container possible. For example, it's better to buy one large, one-kilo tub of yoghurt than to buy 10 single-serve containers. It saves resources (and money).

Avoid take-away food. Fifty per cent of all packaging is consumed by people outside the home, and most of this is in the form of take-away food and drinks; so bring your own instead. Take your own water bottle, thermos and sandwiches. What about that quick coffee? If you don't have time to sit and drink it in the cafe, take a mug with you and ask them to put your coffee in it instead of a take-away mug. It really is simple, and you'll feel good knowing that you've just saved a little bit more of the earth's resources. Even better if you've sourced fairtrade coffee!

There are times when we don't feel like cooking, and take-away does offer a great alternative. Give some consideration to cooking in bulk at home and putting away some meals in the freezer for those rainy days. Otherwise, consider eating out instead. Why bother with the plastic at all? Shout yourself to a night in a restaurant.

If you really want to get take-away, look out for suppliers of biodegradable take-away packaging, which uses materials such as corn starch. When you do take-away, make sure you take it home to reuse or recycle - otherwise your packaging waste could end up as litter or landfill.

Reuse packaging wherever possible. Shop at markets, food co-ops and health-food shops, where you are encouraged to bring your own reusable containers. When buying bathroom and laundry products it's important to remember to bring suitable containers: food and drink containers won't do. Instead, bring along an old shampoo or detergent bottle.

You can also reuse packaging around the home. 

Four billion plastic bags are still used by Australians each and every year. (Total Environment Centre). Wherever you shop, always remember to bring your own basket, box or bag.

Carry a reusable drink bottle and re-fill it with tap water rather than buying bottled water. See our Avoid bottled water action.

Buy reusable products. There are many examples of reusable products that are viable alternatives to throw-away items. They include rechargeable batteries, refillable wine bottles and reusable containers. Rad pads are a cloth alternative to disposable pads and tampons. Hankies, cloth napkins and cloth nappies are all great options too.

Recycle all your packaging. Nearly all packaging can be recycled. Get to know your packaging products and recycle everything you don't reuse. Ask your local council for more details on their kerbside recycling program, as there are differences in the products that different councils recycle. They can also supply information on your nearest recycling depot.

Recycle nature's packaging by composting, or feeding it to the worms. (See our Recycle organic waste action.)

Why is this action important?

Packaging is persistent. It's everywhere and on almost everything we buy. Each year packaging waste grows along with the growth in consumption and less than half of our post-consumer packaging is recycled. Excessive packaging has disastrous consequences for the earth, including the loss of precious resources, over-consumption of water and energy, and extraction of scarce land for landfill which encroaches on our wild spaces, reduces diversity and increases water, soil and air pollution.

Litter is also pervasive. It's an eyesore and a direct threat to our health and the life of many creatures. Packaging litter that enters our waterways has significant effects on marine species, with reports of whales and dolphins choking on bits of plastic containers and turtles being strangled by bags. Up to 60 per cent of platypus in certain regions have been found with lacerations to the body as a direct result of packaging litter. The Federal Government, in its Key Threatening Process in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999), has classified packaging waste as a direct threat to over 20 marine species.