Friday, October 30, 2009

Wrap This Blog!

As I write this--my subject was always going to be packaging, honest--a very large plastic bag is floating around in the wind outside my window on Syracuse University's South Campus. It looks like one of those utterly superfluous bags that wraps a DVD player inside its cardboard box, surrounded by polystyrene peanuts, bubble wrap, or, if the planet is lucky, low-grade paper padding.

If the planet is unlucky, as it often is these days, then no-one will think to pick up this "piece of trash"--or no-one will be able to because a gust of wind just turned it into a balloon--and it will float for miles, possibly to end up in one of the massive ocean trash gyres, to be broken down by the sun and waves into its microscopic, poisonous, and practically indestructible constituent elements.

There were once hints of protest about modern culture's insistence--even reliance--on single-use, unrecyclable, redundant packaging for almost every object we buy. At my mother's local supermarket in Brighton, England, sustainability-minded shoppers objected to apples individually wrapped in cling-film and polystyrene, as if nature's wrappers (you can always peel the apple if you can't wash it) aren't good enough. But what I take to the curb after being a pretty thorough paper/plastic/metal recycler and enthusiastic composter is mostly packaging waste.

An answer might come if sustainability thinking and collaborative problem-solving entered disciplines other than engineering, architecture, environmental studies ... Calling all industrial designers! If society can't do without packaging, at least every package should be firstly re-usable and secondly recyclable.

What if, for instance, bright sparks at Rubbermaid and JVC could work together on a sturdy shipping package for a DVD player that then had second life as a tub container (you know, for all those spare video connectors everyone has) and then a third life as a recycling container for when the broken DVD goes back to JVC for dismantling? In other words, an upscaling of coffee-tin-as-odd-nail-container.

And that's a wrap.

--Martin Walls
Syracuse Center of Excellence

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