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Silly season stories sound death-knell for reason

Television programmes attacking “overpackaging’ generally offer little balance or indeed hard facts, argues the IOP’s packaging training manager

As I write it’s the journalistic “silly season”.

Maybe then no one should have been surprised by the (anti-packaging) tone of some summer BBC and Channel 4 programmes. If their editors have nothing better to do than criticize “overpackaging” or “wasteful packaging” with only a couple of fulminating “experts” to back them, I’m sorry for them, but the assertion that there is “too much” packaging, and consequently that landfill sites are filling up, is becoming tedious. That said, if the BBC airs this sort of piece on prime-time TV, the worry is it will lodge itself further into public consciousness.

One example cited was a memory stick in a chunky welded clampack, described as overpackaged and difficult to access. Harnessing a design consultant’s skills, the programme-makers devised a smaller one-piece card alternative. However the manager at a well-known computer store chain pertinently pointed out that the packaging must protect both against distribution damage and pilferage, and that the card version might not necessarily do both.

The Channel 4 programme, “The Insider – Packaging is Rubbish”, featured Lush Cosmetics founder Mark Constantine, who spent twenty-five minutes showing products were “overpackaged” and arguing that, consequently, we are all wasting both money and the planet’s valuable resources.

Constantine’s assertion that Lush uses the minimum packaging necessary appears sound if you shop in its stores – blocks of soap, solid shampoos and bath melts. Yet delving into its website reveals you can buy these products in their own special gift-wrapped box which can then be mail-ordered and dispatched to your nearest and dearest. (You’d assume there will be some protective packaging). Oh and you can also buy giftwrap and bows separately, as well as empty metal cans to carry your massage bars in.

Without doubt, we should reduce, reuse, recycle and recover but there’s no point reducing packaging to the detriment of product integrity. The impact of loss and damage through distribution is frequently underestimated; the costs of rectifying damage are typically at least five times the cost of product replacement.

Sadly, we are unlikely to change the minds of those who fervently believe there is too much packaging, but we must educate the majority. So the next time you hear that “everything is overpackaged”, stand your ground and put the proponent straight.


The IOP’s Ian Morris