When Packaging Helps

On Monday, the Freakonomics Blog made a, well, economical case for why we should care more about food waste than packaging waste. Writing as a Super Freak(onomics member), James McWilliams provided a neat summary of why I don’t write more about food packaging.

In a word, it’s methane:

But if you take the packaging away and focus on the naked food itself, you have to realize that the food will be rotting a lot sooner than if it weren’t packaged and, as a result, will be heading to the same place as the packaging: the landfill. Decaying food emits methane, a greenhouse gas that’s more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Packaging — unless it’s biodegradable — does not.

McWilliams used the classic shrink-wrapped cucumber example for how packaging expands food’s lifespan. He explained the comparative environmental stakes with this neat turn of the phrase:

Seems bizarre, but it’s possible that we waste more energy by not scraping the bottom of the barrel than we do by throwing out the barrel when we’re done.

I’d also like to add a word not brought up in the post–hunger. Perhaps it was too obvious and didn’t need stating. But concerning oneself with reducing waste can help feed the hungry, via food recovery. Reducing packaging can’t.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive to reduce packaging, when it’s unnecessary. But just why it’s not as high on my list as trimming food waste.

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