Getting a Handle (or Two) on Solid Waste

Reusable packaging has a long tradition, with amphoras, for example, dating back some 4000 years. The amphoras in the picture were submerged for about 3500 years, having been discovered at the bottom of the Agean Sea off the coast of Turkey during just the last decade. They were designed with impressive ergonomic and load optimization features such as handles and the capacity to nest neatly into the inner planking of the ship’s hull.

Fast forward to the 20th Century, and one of the greatest logistical inventions of that Century, the pallet. The pallet and resulting unit load translated into many packages having to endure less handling and fewer stresses in transit, helping pave the way for the rise of the lighter, single trip transport package. Of course there is much more to the story than that, as society increasingly found itself with a hunger for packaged consumer goods.

amphora revised

At this year’s Reusable Packaging Association meeting in Las Vegas, co-located at the PACK EXPO show, Heidi Sanborn of the California Product Stewardship Council showed some frightening slides. Her slide presentation is posted at the RPA website. One that comes to mind shows that in spite of the amazing job being done with increased household recycling, we still are generating as much solid waste as ever in our consumer-centric world. More heartening is a graph of solid waste trending in Belgium, which has an effective Extended Producer Responsibility framework. The graph shows that while over 46% of household packaging went into the solid waste stream in 1995, only 4.2% does so today.

The goal of the CPSC is to shift California’s product waste management system from one focused on government funded and ratepayer financed waste diversion to one that relies on producer responsibility in order to reduce public costs and drive improvements in product design that promote environmental sustainability.

Heidi and the CPSC support the increased use of reusable transport packaging as part of their approach. For sure that’s something we can handle.

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