The Problem with Overpackaging: Why Less is More

overpackaging is problem

Excessive packaging has horrible effects on the environment- the depletion of precious resources, adverse impacts on biodiversity, the consumption of energy and raw materials in the manufacturing and recycling of large amounts of packaging, etc. Then there is the financial burden of overpackaging, which falls on both the customers and waste treatment organizations.

Among the most widely used packaging materials is plastic— also notorious for endangering our planet. The mainstream media and environmental organizations have long emphasized the risks associated with plastic products, from their effects on aquatic life to landfill deterioration. Only 9% of plastics are thought to be recycled, 12% are burned, and 79% end up in landfills or the environment, with around 14 million tons tossed into the oceans every year. 

As opposed to plastic, paper is usually regarded as the more environmentally responsible and durable option. For many companies, paper and cardboard represent the quick-win option that drives them to meet their goals of reducing plastic. Even big names like Unilever and Tesco are taking significant steps to reduce their use of plastic or transitioning to paper and cardboard packaging. 

But is paper truly the more environmentally friendly choice? Should we be persuaded even if around 17 million tons of MSW paper and paperboard end up in landfills in the United States yearly?

A Harvard Business Review article examines the details.

According to the article, businesses that work hard to cut back on plastic packaging or move to more environmentally friendly options do certainly have a positive effect on the environment.

However, the anti-plastic movement has produced the problem of overpackaging— layering paper on top of plastic tubes and bottles.

Companies layer unnecessary paper wrapping on top of plastic packaging while not necessarily decreasing plastic waste to make the packaging appear more eco-friendly. So, how are such loophole strategies winning? Research shows consumers' misled perception of paper packaging is a major factor.  

  • According to eight studies involving over 4,000 participants from the US, the UK, and the Netherlands, consumers react to a product's packaging as more sustainable if it is plastic with a further paper coating.  
  • A survey found participants' inclination towards shelling out additional 15 cents for an energy bar wrapped with plastic and an additional paper layer over the same product without paper.  
  • Another study reveals the ratio of plastic to paper packaging makes a difference in how sustainable people perceive certain products to be. When asked if participants in the study would purchase cherry tomatoes wrapped in paper and plastic with varying paper packaging amounts, the majority responded they would choose the lot with denser paper packaging because it is more environmentally friendly.

problem with overpackaging

The Irony

The pernicious effects of overpackaging are especially progressing because it is most relevant to customers boldly concerned about the environment. While the levels of concern for sustainability vary from individuals to nations, studies discover that over-packaged goods are more likely to be seen as eco-friendly by those actively engaged in sustainable practices. Meaning overpackaging is probably being unintentionally encouraged by the same customers with the strongest interest in pressuring businesses to make sustainable decisions.

Closing Thoughts 

Packaging materials make up a major part of waste in the United States. The finger, however, is not pointable to a single group. Businesses are performing what has always been done and haven't looked into new ways to package their goods. Consumers are acting on what they believe to be the most eco-friendly option. This, according to experts, can be solved by putting up a "minimal packaging" sticker on plastic packaging. It could dispel the myth that over-packaged goods are more environmentally friendly. Clear advertising can aid in lowering customers' prejudices towards the responsible use of plastic packaging and also eliminate the need to increase paper packaging. But at the same time, consumers must also exercise caution to prevent unnecessary packing from filling landfills. We've shared a few ideas for cutting back on packing waste below.  

  • Bring your reusable bag, water bottle, etc., when on the go. 
  • When possible, choose products made of natural fibers like organic cotton canvas backpacks instead of plastic-based ones.
  • Purchase goods from merchants who accept refilled containers. 
  • Get lifestyle supplies like hygiene, cleaning, and kitchen essentials in bulk.  
  • Shop locally at establishments where food is sold loose. Whenever applicable, choose organically sourced items.
  • Support brands that are intentionally cutting plastic out of their supply chain.
    • Here at Terra Thread, we only use organic cotton fabric to make our products (no plastic-based fibers). And, customers also receive their orders with plastic or minimal packaging.

Avoiding plastics altogether is the most efficient way to reduce plastic waste. The decisions we make today to safeguard the planet and its resources will determine how our ecosystems develop over time. We hope the tips help you refrain from packaging materials until they are absolutely essential.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Terra Thread backpacks, bags, and accessories are created for conscious consumers, corporations, and NGOs who are looking to make a positive impact on the world with their purchases. Terra Thread puts people and the planet first, every step of the way from organic farms to your arms.