The Plastic Salad–Reducing Packaging Insanity

There is plastic in my salad. Please help me get it out.

photo 1

Housesitting for my parents, I raided the fridge to find a six pack of prepackaged salads. There was little else to eat so I cracked one open. The packaging was unbelievable. All ingredients were sealed inside a plastic container with a removable plastic film on the top. Inside, the accoutrements were nestled in a fitted and removable plastic dish. Toppings were sectioned off within the dish. The dressing, also resting atop this plastic dish, was in another plastic container sealed by a plastic film. Under the toppings dish was the lettuce, a plastic fork, and another plastic container with quinoa inside. I emptied all of the ingredients into a ceramic bowl and stared at the naked plastic that remained.

I do not fault the consumer (i.e. my parents) for purchasing these salads, nor myself for eating the salads, because they would have spoiled otherwise. I blame the supply chain, which includes the salad manufacturer, the packaging company that supplied the manufacturer with the packaging, the fossil fuels industry that supplied the raw materials to the packaging company, and the policymakers who could have made it more difficult to sell such a salad. I easefully mentioned to my parents how wasteful the salads were, but I am comfortable with my parents. I cannot reasonably stand outside of a supermarket while preaching to strangers about their salad purchases. I wouldn’t feel good, they might despise me, and my efforts would be in vain. A shift in policy is therefore required.

photo 2The plastic salad cannot be fixed by the free market, which fails to consider the plastic salad’s environmental costs. While the packaging itself likely is quite expensive, each supplier in the supply chain recoups its costs by integrating them into their pricing. The consumer pays these costs in the form of a very expensive salad. The consumer then discards the salad waste via the local trash collector, which recoups its costs through charges to the customer and municipality.

Policymakers (pushed by the public) must develop policies, in the form of a tax, which hold producers accountable for the waste they create. Such a tax would be charged based on the type and weight of packaging that producers use. In order to restrict producers from transferring the costs of the tax to consumers, the tax would need to be cost prohibitive. Products sold in cost-prohibitive packaging would be unaffordable and uncompetitive in the marketplace. The market can work, but only if regulated.

photo 4Industry will not welcome new taxes, and policymakers will not intervene without motivation from the public. The public must therefore act, eschewing plastic salads, writing their representatives, or asking the local plastic-salad vendor to stop carrying the plastic-salad. Through these and other tactics the plastic salad must be challenged. It is a product that does us harm by littering the world with plastic and we simply do not need it.

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About Emerging Environments

Thoughts about environmental policy, sustainability, cancer, and more.
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