Paper or Plastic

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By Daniel Imhoff (Sierra Club Books, 2005)

The average American generates 300 pounds of packaging waste per year. Sixty percent of this waste once contained food and beverages, and most of that comprises single-use containers like water bottles and yogurt cups. (Worth noting: One out of every three servings of water consumed in the United States now comes in a plastic bottle, only 20 percent of which are recycled.) The landfill factor is creepy, but the “upstream” aspects of packaging production are just as disturbing: Consider the disappearance of forests for virgin-wood shipping pallets, or the 2 gallons of water used to filter every gallon that’s bottled. In Paper or Plastic, author Daniel Imhoff illuminates the less explored aspects of our packaging “waste stream” with a series of photos, graphs and short essays. He profiles the lifecycle of packing materials like wood, plastic and metals, as well as the inspired innovation behind packaging reform — from air-pillow shipping inserts to eco-design and take-back laws. The book also contains a wealth of creative and sensible solutions that individuals can employ to reduce packaging waste and an extensive appendix of resources for companies that want to shift to more-sustainable packaging practices. If you’re in search of concrete ways to lighten your environmental footprint, this smart, accessible book is full of great ideas.

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