Saturday, October 2, 2021

Reusable Packaging: What Some Publications Are Ignoring in Their Evaluations

    As the people of the world continue to realize the growing need for environmental rehabilitation and stewardship, I have seen a number of large publications evaluating the costs and benefits of reusable packaging vs single-use. I do not know whether big oil goes so far as to lobby against reusable packaging - they probably do - but from the majority of the publications I’ve seen (specific post inspiration came from this TIME article: Reusable Packaging Is the Latest Eco-Friendly Trend. But Does It Actually Make a Difference?), these evaluations are shortsightedly from an energy-use-only standpoint.

The main argument is “you would have to use a reusable product X amount of times before it would save more energy than it took to create single-use product Y”. While energy-use may be the most important factor at the moment, it is not the only concern that requires acknowledgement when assessing the costs of reusable vs single-use, especially when a large percentage of consumers and services (accidentally or not) are not properly disposing of waste.

What I have not seen many of these publications include in their assessments is the impact that single-use packaging has on wildlife, specifically marine wildlife. When you have massive swaths of single-use packaging blanketing portions of the ocean, suffocating animals, being mistaken for food, and entering their bodies (which enters ours if we consume them), the problem is bigger than just energy. To ignore that incalculably complex issue in these publications is irresponsible. *This is not to say there aren’t plenty of people and organizations out there raising awareness about the issue; just that I’m not seeing it in this conversation.*

I know not everyone cares about the suffering of marine wildlife, or even recognizes that marine life can suffer, but the problem is a symptom of a bigger environmental issue if nothing else. Habitat and biodiversity loss threaten to exponentially increase the speed at which these emissions freely enter our biosphere, pushing the world past its tipping point at even greater speeds.

The more (overwhelmingly single-use) waste that collects in our oceans, the less viable a host it becomes for marine flora, which sequester enormous amounts of Carbon. This leads to increases in overall ocean temperature and acidification, further clearing the path for greenhouse gasses to enter our biosphere and raise global temperatures beyond repair.

No matter how you slice it, there is more to consider in the “reusable vs disposable” debate than the amount of energy it takes to create or recycle the product. It concerns me to comb through these articles and see little-to-no recognition of this problem, which could easily outweigh energy-use issues once we’ve ditched fossil fuels as an energy source.

As a leading publication, I think printing any article that leads people to believe they should go on using single-use packaging is a harmful misstep when complete ecosystems, species, and the suffering of wildlife are at stake. As of right now, there is no comprehensive way to calculate the long-term impacts that plastic pollution will have on our oceans and its inhabitants, which is all the more reason why it can't be ignored.

- Moth


  1. Nice piece Moth. Notice how they only refer to people as "consumers" in the piece. That's pretty telling.

  2. Great piece indeed. Yeah that's like saying Steph Curry is better than LeBron because he averages more points. There's more to the story.