"Because you can't hug a tree if you can't find one."

9/08/2007

Paper or Plastic?


"Paper or plastic : Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World," by Dan Imhoff. (San Francisco : Sierra Club Books, 2005)


Before picking up this book I knew that the answer would be "neither." It makes no sense to waste resources of any kind on disposable bags. Let’s face it, habit is the reason most Americans don’t use and reuse canvas bags when shopping.

But in the mean time, while I consider plastic to be downright evil, I thought reducing paper consumption was merely a good idea. I never thought much about my use of most paper products. Habit blinded me to the impact of the envelopes, wrappers, notebooks, sketchbooks, drawing paper, bags and boxes that surround me.

This book really opened my eyes to the developed world’s (and my own) serious over-consumption of paper. As the author states right up front:

"Wood is theoretically a renewable resource, but only theoretically. Global forestry practices are so rapidly degrading forest ecosystems that a vast amount of the world’s biodiversity may be lost within a half century as a result of paper, building, packaging and other products."

That doesn’t mean that plastic is let off the hook. Plastic packaging, which is sturdy enough to last a thousand years, is designed to be used once and thrown away. But while the book is full of facts and figures, statistics and consumption patterns, and the obligatory "10 things you can do" section (actually 13), what I really appreciated was its exploration of alternatives. Like the company that makes vending machines to refill the plastic bottles that its cleaning products come in. (Unfortunately they won’t refill just any container, which you could do yourself in the bulk section of many health food stores.) And the company that figured out how to better protect its electronics by using less packaging, or the initiatives to reuse wooden palettes and fruit crates.

I still feel that the sheer number of products available to consume is a ridiculous waste of resources. But since that isn’t going away overnight, corporations should shift their Research and Development efforts away from creating new variations of old products and towards reducing the impact of their current lines. And hopefully if we are better informed about the impact of the things we buy, we can stop choosing based on what is most convenient in the short term.

I hope you’ll check out "Paper or Plastic" by Daniel Imhoff from your library.

1 comment:

- jesse said...

Plastic is evil. I try to carry a tote or two around with me always but getting around plastic within packaging is hard - even though I buy as much in bulk, packed in reusable containers as I can food-wise.