On Saturday, I bought three small — and cheap — items from a big-name department store and a hardware store. Each came in packaging that wasn’t warranted, even if the price of each item had been much higher.
Exhibit 1: The watch
The first item was a watch. I no longer buy expensive watches — a $10 to $20 watch does just fine at telling the time. As I work from home, I only wear a watch occasionally, so spending big bucks on a watch seems silly. My last $10 watch lasted me a couple of years, but it died recently — the battery went and the band was on its last legs. At $10 for the purchase, it just wasn’t worth fixing — a new battery and band and the fitting of both would cost upwards of $40, so I decided to replace it with another $10 watch from Big W (like Target, Wal-Mart etc. in the US).
Here’s how my watch was packaged:
Yes, this $10 watch was inside a sealed plastic clam shell.
But wait… there’s more…
Inside this triangular piece of plastic that was almost impossible to cut open without cutting yourself in the process, was a hard plastic display holder, around which were TWO tightly strapped cable ties holding the watch. And notice the square thing underneath the hard plastic bit? That’s an RF security tag!
What were they thinking? That these watches (at <$10) were so darned precious that they needed this sort of protection?
After I got everything cut open and pulled apart (a process that took several minutes, a lot of frustration, a few expletives, and a pair of scissors), I was left with this:
I only wanted a watch, not a small landfill’s worth of plastic!! Had I thought about, I should have opened the package in the store after paying for it, and handed the packaging back to Big W. If more customers did that, maybe these stores would get the hint that all this over-packaging is totally unnecessary… especially for low-priced items such as this.
I suspect that if I bought a Cartier watch in a jewellery store, it would come with less unnecessary packaging. And I also suspect that all this packaging added about $2 to the cost of this already cheap watch.
Oh, and my husband got cut by this outer plastic when he was sorting our recyclable trash… he wasn’t happy!
Exhibit 2: The surge protector
Next stop was Bunnings (like Home Depot or Lowes in the US), where I needed to buy a surge protector. It was $4.95, and like the watch, it came in a hard plastic clam shell sealed against ingress by anything nasty, and moulded to suit the shape of the $5 object inside.
I could only open this package with scissors — it sure couldn’t be prised open. And like the watch’s packaging, I had to be careful not to get cut by the sharp edges of the plastic as I cut it open.
I wonder what people with arthritis or limited hand mobility do? This stuff was TOUGH to cut, and once cut, it’s dangerously sharp.
Exhibit 3: The tape
My other purchase at Bunnings was some plumbers’ tape. This one wasn’t as badly packaged as the other two items, but it was still overkill for a $1.99 item!
At least I could get it open without scissors and the risk of cutting myself because the moulded plastic over the tape reel just wrapped around the cardboard and was stapled to it with a single staple. However, notice that the tape reel is inside a plastic ‘doughnut’ ring, which has a plastic top and bottom piece! Though having now used the plumbers’ tape, I think that the ring is necessary as this stuff is really fine and wants to fall off the reel.
Back in the day (meaning a decade or so ago), you could buy things like plumbers’ tape loose from bins in the aisles at Bunnings; they didn’t come on a piece of cardboard with a moulded piece of plastic stapled to them. Likewise for things like surge protectors. Has all this unnecessary packaging come about because customers asked for it? (I doubt it) Or because stores were losing too much to shoplifting and pilfering? (possible) Or because manufacturers now have to have instructions and warnings for EVERYTHING they make, and those instructions and warnings have to be attached to the product? (very likely)
Even if instructions and warnings have to be attached to the item, and the item has to be secured against shoplifting, there are ways to minimize the packaging. For example, the surge protector could be attached to the cardboard warning/instructional material with a cable tie with no other plastic required; likewise the watch and the plumbers’ tape. These sealed clam shell plastic containers are unnecessary for products such as these, and just add to the manufacturing cost and the cost to the environment when it comes time to dispose of them. And nothing I saw on any of the plastic packaging indicated it had been made from recycled materials or that it could be recycled. <grrrr>