How can I reduce the amount of packaging?

Packaging serves many purposes. Its primary purpose is to protect and contain a product. It also can prevent tampering, provide information and preserve hygienic integrity and freshness. Some packaging, however, is designed largely to enhance a product’s attractiveness or prominence on the store shelf.

Since packaging materials account for a large volume of the trash we generate, they provide a good opportunity for reducing waste.

Here are some ways to reduce the amount of packaging in the products we buy:

Reducing the amount of packaging is beneficial to the environment, our communities, economy and health.

  • When choosing between two similar products, select the one with the least unnecessary packaging.
  • Choose packaging that is recyclable.
  • Remember that wrenches, screwdrivers, nails and other hardware are often available in loose bins. At the grocery, consider whether it is necessary to purchase items such as tomatoes, garlic and mushrooms in prepackaged containers when they can be bought unpackaged.
  • When appropriate, use products you already have on hand to do household chores (see Household Materials / Cleaning Products in the Home section of this guide). Using these products can save on the packaging associated with additional products.
  • Recognize and support store managers when they stock products with no packaging or reduced packaging. Let clerks know when it’s not necessary to double wrap a purchase.
  • Consider large or economy-sized items for household products that are used frequently, such as laundry soap, shampoo, baking soda, pet foods and cat litter. These sizes usually have less packaging per unit of product. For food items, choose the largest size that can be used before spoiling.
  • Consider whether concentrated products are appropriate for your needs. They often require less packaging and less energy to transport to the store, saving money as well as natural resources.
  • Whenever possible, select grocery, hardware and household items that are available in bulk. Bulk merchandise also may be shared with friends or neighbors.
  • It is important to choose food services that are appropriate to your needs. One alternative to single food services is to choose the next largest serving and store any leftovers in a reusable container.
  • Remember to bring your reusable soda or coffee mugs when buying drinks.

Use reusable grocery bags instead of plastic or paper bags when shopping.

  • Plastic grocery bags are a big contributor to litter when they are discarded and are causing harm to sea birds, marine mammals and fish when they are mistaken as food in the water and on beaches.
  • Paper bags aren’t much better on the environment since they require more energy and resources than plastic bags to produce and recycle. According to the Food Marketing Institute’s Plastic Bag Backgrounder (See Resources), “a paper bag requires four times more energy to produce than a plastic bag (2,511 BTUs vs. 594 BTUs) and the manufacturing process of paper bags generates 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.” And they estimate that it takes almost twice as much energy to recycle equal amounts of paper versus plastic.
  • Keep your reusable bags in a place where you will remember to grab them every time you go to the store – in your car, near the door of your garage, anywhere that you will see them when going shopping.


Our municipal water systems are safe, tested regularly and our tap water is essentially free, so why are we still buying water in plastic bottles?

Bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more than tap water and can cost more per gallon than gasoline.

According to a report in National Geographic, bottled water also has big impacts on the following areas:

Oil Consumption

  • Americans drink more bottled water than any other nation, purchasing an impressive 29 billion bottles every year. Making all the plastic for those bottles uses 17 million barrels of crude oil annually. That is equivalent to the fuel needed to keep 1 million vehicles on the road for 12 months. If you were to fill one quarter of a plastic water bottle with oil, you would be looking at roughly the amount used to produce that bottle.


  • The recycling rate for those 29 billion bottles of water is low; only about 13% ends up in the recycling stream where they are turned into products like fleece clothing, carpeting, decking, playground equipment and new containers and bottles. In 2005, that meant approximately 2 million tons of water bottles ended up in U.S. landfills, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Plastic bottles take centuries to decompose and if they are incinerated, toxic byproducts, such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals, are released into the atmosphere.


  • Bottled water often takes a long journey to US markets. In 2006, the equivalent of 2 billion half-liter bottles arrived in U.S. ports, according to the NRDC. Fiji shipped 18 million gallons of bottled water to California, releasing about 2,500 tons of transportation-related pollution. Western Europe’s shipment of bottled water to New York City that year released 3,800 tons of pollution. The Earth Policy Institute estimates that the energy used to pump, process, transport and refrigerate bottled water is over 50 million barrels of oil annually.


  • Bottled water isn’t always as safe as tap water. The NRDC conducted a four-year study of the bottled water industry and concluded that while most bottled water is safe to drink, there are areas of concern. Roughly 22% of the water tested contained contaminant levels that exceeded strict state health limits. One study found that hormone-disrupting phthalates had leached into bottled water that had been stored for 10 weeks.

Lack of Testing

  • While the EPA requires drinking water suppliers (tap water in our homes) to use certified labs to test their water, the FDA does not have this authority over bottled water. Further, test results don’t have to be reported to the FDA — even if the test results show violations of drinking water quality standards. Even those states that have rules that exceed FDA requirements typically don’t match EPA requirements.
  • While the EPA requires public drinking water systems to annually publish the results of water quality testing, along with information about the drinking water source and known threats, the FDA does not require this of bottled water companies.

How to replace bottled water:

  • Buy reusable containers that you can fill up anywhere.
  • Install a filter system on your tap at home or use a filtered pitcher for better tasting water.

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