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Over the last few years, the quantityof packaging surrounding food we buy has grown and grown - plastic cartons, film sleeves, cardboard boxes, moulded supports and, in some cases, all of the above! We may be recycling more and more, but why do the supermarkets use so much packaging which we then just throw it in the recycling bins?
Why so much packaging?
- Product quality: Well, it seems that all this packaging is 'necessary' to keep food in the perfect condition that we, as consumers, expect. They protect delicate fruit and vegetable from being squashed and bumped and that helps to preserve the food.
- Product life: Why do cucumbers come in a plastic film? Because it means they will stay fresh for 14 days rather than just three. Packaging helps keep things fresh for a longer period.
- Information: the packaging provides information useful to customers about the good inside: nutrition, cooking instructions, provenance etc.
- Branding: packaging can turn a regular product into a high end luxury item, all the supermarkets have 'value' ranges, and they have 'gourmet' high end ranges - whilst the products are sometimes differentiated by the ingredients, sometimes there is no distinction other than the way the products are packaged.
How can we help?
Older preschoolers can be taught about different materials and where they come from. They should also be taught about the scarcity of resources and the value of recycling. When we grew up as children, recycling was almost unheard of and we thought there was enough oil to make plastic for generations to come. Only more recently have we realised that the earth's resources are finite, and our children should have this sense of scarcity instilled in them from their earliest years so that consideration for resource use and the importance of recycling just become a part of their everyday thinking.
What steps can we take to help instill this knowledge? On a shopping trip, and when disposing of the resulting packaging and other waste, take the steps outlined below and explain to your little one why you are doing each:-
- Don't take the hangers home when you buy clothes. Leave them to be re-used.
- Choose concentrated liquids (squash and fabric conditioner) which means less carton and is lighter to get home too!
- Take your own carrier bags to use again
- Choose to shop in your local farm shop or green grocers where fruit and vegetables are not pre-packaged!
- Recycle all you can. The following can all be recycled and if it's not collected from your home there will be recycling collection points nearby that where you can leave these:-
- cardboard and paper
- glass jars and bottles
- aluminum cans
- steel tins and drink cans
- plastic milk bottles and all household plastic bottles
- drinks cartons
- Make sure you look at the recycle properties of your packaging because things change all the time and packaging that once was not recyclable, may now be!
It's worth doing your bit even if it takes a little extra effort. To really make you feel good, why not save some cartons and boxes and let your little one loose on them. Explain about recycling to them and try to encourage them to recycle too.
- Build towers and knock them down.
- Try putting them in a line by size: biggest to smallest.
- Sort by colour or shape.
- Jump on them to watch them flatten.
- Roll a ball at them and see how many you can hit.
- And, best of all, make models with them!