David, I’ve thought much the same thing. At some point we’re going to wish we’d saved the oil that went in to all that packaging and those water bottles and all the other multitudinous waste our black gold makes and that we so carelessly and inevitably throw away.
I wonder what an appropriate policy would be to counter this? A blanket gas tax makes sense, but it would hit drivers as well, and that would be immediately unpopular. It would also add a bit of a sting to the already bad economy. Some places have banned plastic shopping bags outright (though they make excellent trash bags, and if you use them for that purpose you don’t need to buy trash bags which are made out of the same stuff only more of it). Those same places – I think largely in California – have not done enough to curtail water-bottle use.
I imagine in the future we will go to the grocery store and much of what we buy will no longer be in cardboard boxes or plastic containers. We’ll buy lots more things in bulk, in containers we own. Similarly, toys will have to be packaged differently – maybe sold outside of boxes altogether.
At my daughter’s birthday recently I had an incredibly difficult time even opening a set of toy musical instruments she had gotten. Each was tied down with a little plastic knot, wedged between cardboard. Packaging seems like such a bizarre waste of our resources. I realize it prevents shoplifting to some degree – but is it worth the extra cost? Would it be worth the extra cost if that cost were more realistically reflected in the goods used? Is shoplifting really that big of a problem and in any case aren’t observant employees still the best way to dissuade these petty thieves?
This is one area where I think you could actually impose taxes or fines that would not, in the end, be passed on to the customer (the argument against many such taxes and fines on pollution and waste in industry). Companies are more likely to decrease their use of these materials than they are to pass along the cost to consumers. Water-bottle taxes probably would be passed on to the consumer, but in that case it’s sort of the point. The price of a bottle of water can only go so high before it becomes prohibitively expensive and people start turning to their perfectly good (oftentimes identical) tap water and reusable water-bottles.
The questions is also whether there are any good replacement materials out there to substitute that are both more clean and more sustainable. I’ve seen a lot of corn-based, recyclable materials used for coffee cups, water cups, and so forth (even for bags of chips) but I’m not sure how environmentally friendly they actually are, and I suspect that their use relies heavily on government subsidies of corn.