Column | Plastic packaging: Is this the beginning of the end?
“There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it? Will you think about it?”
That advice, delivered to Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” enjoyed a good five-decade run. But it may be nearing the end of its shelf life.
According to the Washington Post, the Ekoplaza organic supermarket chain in the Netherlands has opened a pilot store (in Amsterdam) with an unprecedented aisle dedicated to 700-plus products that use absolutely no plastic packaging.
We’re not talking about a return to the days of country store pickle barrels and cracker barrels, but Ekoplaza’s special aisle does boast products enclosed in glass, metal and cardboard – as well as a plant-based biofilm that will break down within 12 weeks in a home composter, instead of clogging a landfill for centuries.
In conjunction with the British environmental group A Plastic Planet, Ekoplaza hopes to make it easy to identify and promote “green” products that don’t rely on petrochemical packaging.
Like the dieting mantra “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips,” Ekoplaza wants to show the shortsightedness of inhaling a candy bar and casually leaving the wrapper for your great-great-great-great-grandchildren to deal with.
Across the globe, people use more than 1 million plastic bottles each minute (mostly for water), according to Ekoplaza’s website. Fewer than 9 percent get recycled.
(Ironically, progressivism is an obstacle to further growth in recycling. Increasing the recycling rate involves begging, “Pretty please, with sugar on top.” But that is seen as a microaggression against ugly people, a capitulation to Big Sweetener and a veiled assertion that the “pretty please” is subordinate to the sugar.)
In my day job, I see a mind-numbing amount of shrink-wrap and other plastic packaging. It doesn’t get much better when I’m off the clock. Doesn’t it help you sleep better at night knowing that a serial killer can hacksaw through prison bars quicker than you can unpackage a new cellphone to call 911?
Look under “wretched excess” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of packaging designers – assuming you can get the dictionary out of the wrapper.
The Ekoplaza initiative has intrigued consumers in the European Union and Great Britain, but expect pushback in the good ol’ United States.
Hipsters – as well as ordinary folks disgusted with plastic garbage killing fish and other wildlife – will embrace the movement, but ornery traditionalists will double down. (“The Founding Fathers secured my right to keep and bear plastic jugs of milk. And the store won’t put my groceries in a plastic bag? Fine. I’ll just stand here and block traffic until they start laminating the ‘Enquirer’ and the ‘Star’ in the checkout lane.”)
Unless they switch gears and get in on the ground floor of biofilm and other wrappings, we can expect a protracted battle with the plastics industry. (“I’m all for sustainability – like sustaining my corner office and my bonus.”)
Encourage American manufacturers, retailers and legislators to investigate new options. We could enter a golden era of choice, innovation and socially responsible behavior.
Just don’t oversell the composting aspect. Composting fanatics can see it as a magic bullet for every problem. Alas, they forget the fate of the dinosaur who saw an asteroid hurtling toward earth and shouted to his friend, “Quick! Fetch me a wheelbarrow and mulch. I think we can fix this.”