“Making a salad has historically required buying a head of lettuce, carrots, etc. These ingredients, however, must be prepared for serving before the salad can be eaten. Since we typically don’t eat the entire vegetable, this process produces waste. (Remember, cleaning also consumes water.)
If instead, we buy bags of ready-to-eat salad, only the edible parts are included. The rest is used for animal feed, keeping it out of the trash bin and providing additional economic value. Transporting only the edible ingredients also produces more efficient results per unit of transportation, helping reduce both fuel consumption and the related carbon dioxide production.”
The above is from a brochure called “The Hidden Value of Packaging” published by the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN), which is an industry association for packaging producers and users.
In its many publications, AMERIPEN demonstrates that packaging is highly valuable to the US economy, citing its ability to protect products so that they can be transported to a broader range of markets; its ability to avoid spoilage by protecting food products from bacteria and rot; and its ability to educate consumers through information provided on labels. There can be no disputing that the economic viability of many businesses would be severely reduced without the advantages of containers and packaging.
According to the 2007 US Economic Census, state and local governments spent $23,879,562,000.00 on solid waste management in 2011. The US EPA says that containers and packaging make up 30% of the MSW stream, this means it cost taxpayers $7,163,868,600.00 to collect and dispose of the packaging that accompanied their products.
Without disputing any of the benefits of packaging that AMERIPEN claims, I question why taxpayers should have to foot the 7-billion-dollar-bill of its disposal. Indeed, as AMERIPEN has so thoroughly demonstrated in their brochures, packaging provides a huge benefit to manufacturers and marketers, allowing them to deliver products further, more safely, and with more information.
When we spoke with Professor Munger about recycling green glass, he encouraged us to remember property rights when the concept of packaging comes up. Professor Munger pointed out that often times we act like packaging is nobody’s property (or everybody’s), despite the fact that packaging is originally intended to meet the manufacturer’s need, facilitating the sale and delivery of their products.
In the same way that we expect businesses to contribute to the cost of those things that facilitate the operation of their business (roads, water, energy, and most other civil services) it seems natural that we should expect them to contribute to the cost of the disposal of the packaging that allows them to market, deliver, and keep safe the goods consumers purchase.
Professor Munger believes this can best be achieved through the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR is a system of requiring manufacturers to account for the full cost of their products (including disposal) so that these costs can be rolled into the price charged consumers, rather than letting businesses unfairly externalize costs on tax bills.
Unsurprisingly, AMERIPEN states that they have not selected EPR as a “strategic issue,” nor have they even made up their mind whether or not they support it. An organization called the Product Stewardship Institute claims that AMERIPEN holds an actively hostile stance towards EPR.
AMERIPEN’s stance on EPR is indicative of the treatment the concept receives throughout US society. With the exception of electronics and some very hazardous products, there few instances where EPR has been initiated.