The deceptively simple supermarket choice echoed in the title symbolizes the dilemma of a society on a collision course with the planet’s life-support systems. Do we clearcut forests, process pulp, and bleach it with chlorine to make paper bags? Or do we make a pact with demon hydrocarbon, refining ancient sunlight into handy plastics?
About half the total volume of America’s municipal solid waste is packaging — at least 300 pounds per person each year — and the “upstream” costs in energy and resources used to make packaging are even more alarming.
In this fascinating look at the world of packaging, writer Daniel Imhoff gives consumers, product designers, and policymakers the information we need to take steps toward a more sustainable future. They delve into the histories and life cycles of packaging materials and look at the countless ways that packaged goods shape our culture.
Using case studies, they explore the positive trends that are changing packaging, including producer responsibility and “take-back” laws being enacted in Europe; the eco-design movement; plant-based plastics; labeling to disclose the ecological and social impacts of products; and producing and consuming locally and in bulk versus the wasteful global exchange of single-serving containers.
Despite recent advances, the packaging problem keeps growing, Imhoff warns. Real solutions must incorporate new (or rediscovered) ways of producing, distributing, packaging, consuming, reusing, and reprocessing products and materials. As consumers, there’s much we can do, and Paper or Plastic offers a checklist for consumer action, along with resources for information on products, programs, and policy options. It’s one book that is truly worth the recycled paper it’s printed on.
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