Christmas packaging comes but once a year

My wife buys herself a face cream product she likes to dab on during her ablutions. Me I wash and wear. It's fine. It smells okay and if it makes her feel even better about her (what I consider perfect) skin, then it's all well and good. She tells me it's not too pricey…but the size and shape of the outer clear plastic container, the chunky lid and the polymer capsule within, padded cardboard box notwithstanding makes me assume that her concept of pricey is not quite in synchrony with mine. Never mind, it makes her happy and although we have a joint bank account, I do spend a lot of money on guitar strings.

Either way, it's that packaging that gets me. The capsule within the jar within the box. It probably has great shelf presence, but the internal volume of the clear plastic jar is probably 100 milliliters whereas the capsule that is filled with the actual product, is at a push about half of that. It is not only that it is consumer deception it is a waste of resources and materials and probably hikes the transportation costs and pollution by a significant amount too.

Now, we has probably almost all had at least one package delivered by that most famous of pioneering online retailers with the riparian-sounding name. They notoriously "ship" boxes stuffed with air or loosely coiled streamers of brown paper irrespective of the padded product within. I've had a 1'x2'x3' box that contained nothing more than paper and air and a tiny box containing a hard drive. Padding for protection is one thing but they could have safely shipped thirty or forty hard drives in that box and still had plenty of air space to pad each of them individually above and beyond the padded package the drive came in from the manufacturer in the first place.

A saw an example of shelf presence recently online in the form of a package of dog poop bags that come as rolls, the vinyl bag in which they cam gave the impression that there were nine rolls on each of two layers. The blogger opened up the package though and the central roll was simply a cardboard tube. As if that were not enough to warrant a rant, there was a paper box as a spacer to give the overall package greater bulk.

The Western world and increasingly the parts of the world we refer to as the Developing World are drive by consumerism, greed if you will. Packaging is an enormous part of that. We recycle all of our aluminum cans, paper, cardboard, plastic cartons, and glass into a Wheelie bin. We compost all of our garden and kitchen waste. Indeed, we rarely touch our "black" non-recyclable bin (it does get fed used dog poop bags, however). We try not to consume too much packaging. But, inevitably we do, just as it seems all of our neighbors do. At this time of year, that consumerism is even more bulky with all that wrapping and ribbons and all those bulky boxes decorated with sweet little things in boxes within boxes within. Oh, that reminds me, better start that Christmas shopping list…wonder if the missus needs some more of that face cream for her stocking…

David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase.