Next time you buy new music, tennis shoes, snack food, or back-to-school supplies take a look at how the items you are buying are packaged. Of course you don't want your new purchase to be broken or damaged so there will be some layers of packaging the are necessary to keep your purchase safe and clean.

Consider for a moment those parts of the package that are necessary:

  • Can the required packaging be changed to reduce the quantity of material used to make the package?
  • Can the package be made with a material that you can put into your recycling bin instead of something that goes in the trash can?

Stop and think, does the item need to be packaged at all? Consider that the production and disposal of packaging affects our natural environment. Let's take a look at the packaging associated with some of your favorite things and think about where the natural resources used to manufacture the packaging materials and the potential methods for disposing of the packaging materials.

Getting Started

Develop a list different types of packaging materials; include the bag that you used to carry your purchase from the store; the plastic wrap surrounding the package, the paperboard box, and the styrofoam inserts. What raw materials are used to make each of these packaging components? How do they become the package that we buy at the store?


  • Consider the following types of packaging: aluminum can, egg carton, plastic bags, cardboard box, soda bottle, steel can, and milk container.
  • Conduct research on each of these packaging types by tracing the packaging's creation from raw materials through the final process. Explore the cultural or historical basis for using this material for packaging and what was used in earlier generations. Think about how advertising impacts the packaging of the products that you like to buy.
  • Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of packaging. Think about which materials use the most energy and resources to manufacture? Which require the most energy and resources for disposal? Which use the least? Which types of packaging have the greatest negative environmental impacts? What could we do to help minimize these impacts?

So What?

Young people are important consumers for the products businesses want to sell. You can influence businesses and manufacturers by writing letters or sending electronic mail to product manufacturers and corporate offices expressing your concern about overpackaging of products and encouraging them to use packaging materials that you can recycle. Include the results of your research and your suggestions for better product packaging. You can make a difference!