One of the more silly of the current environmental concerns is the worrying about the quantity of packaging that goes into – or around – Easter eggs. There’s an underlying mistake being made here, one which none of the proponents of action have bothered to recognise, let alone think about. Which is, well, what’s the purpose? The point of all this human activity we call an economy?
As any economist could and would tell you we’re after the maximisation of human utility. Given the constraints placed upon us by reality – the availability of stuff with which to do things, technologies we know about to do things to stuff with – we want humans to be as happy as they can be. We want, in short to maximise the amount of joy in the world.
At which point, packaging. Sure, no doubt there’s a certain harm that befalls us all from the creation of packaging and its disposal. Why not? There are costs and benefits to everything of course. But that’s the point, while there may be costs there are also benefits. So, yes, OK, there are costs to packaging.
Often enough the benefits are in tangible things. Packaging groceries reduces the waste in groceries. The resources we’d use to create more groceries are larger than that we do use to create packaging. We know this because packaging stuff is cheaper, overall, than not packaging it.
But what about all that gaudiness surrounding an Easter egg? Well, that does, often enough, produce a little bolus of joy. And that’s what the whole system is, as above, really about, producing joy in humans. It’s worth noting that from the very beginning of there even being human beings we observe the existence of art. Art being exactly and precisely that waste of effort and resources in directly practicable terms and purely and solely with the aim of producing such a bolus of joy. Thus this is just missing the point:
According to the environmental charity Friends of the Earth, Easter egg makers are still failing when it comes to plastic waste. This leads to some 3,000 tonnes of packaging waste each year. But it is too easy to blame the manufacturer – after all, we buy the eggs.
Note the assumption built into the use of the word “failing”. The assumption has been made that packaging is, in itself , a bad thing. It is this which leads to nonsense like this list of possibilities:
So how can food providers and consumers help to reduce packaging waste? Here are a few options (although some may not be so sweet). Make the eggs flat. A two dimensional egg can be packaged far more easily and is less prone to damage than a 3D egg which requires additional packaging to protect those thin chocolate walls around a hollow space. Flat eggs could be made just as attractive and would certainly taste the same. They would also improve logistics efficiency by not having to transport so much air. “Build your own” Easter egg kits – packs could include everything you need to produce a bespoke egg (including two egg halves) for your loved one. There would be no need for plastic packaging and you would be giving a personalised, hand-crafted gift.
Opt for cardboard and items wrapped in packaging that can be recycled – such as cardboard and foil. Typically, it is the more luxurious brands that want to show off their extravagant produce in-store who still use large amounts of plastic. Avoid getting drawn in by the additional items or “gifts” that may come with eggs. These are the kind of gifts that nobody really wants, such as a low-quality mug or plastic toy – and the negative environmental impact of producing those could be much greater than that of the chocolate egg and packaging combined. And you will pay a premium for them. Ignore chocolate this Easter and opt for something more meaningful. Regardless of your religion (or lack of), Easter is about new life, not new waistlines. Bake or make something (egg shaped if you like) that your family will really like and will mean much more to them than manufactured chocolate. And which the planet will thank you for too.
Do note that Mother Gaia ain’t ever going to pop along with a congratulatory handshake. There will be no thanks made.
At no point is even consideration given to the idea that the packaged egg might produce that joy. Which, given that we do indeed go buy these things each year to give to each other, is odd, isn’t it? Why are we giving each other expensive – as opposed to cheap – chocolate? Because, obviously enough, the dressing of the chocolate is something that produces that joy.
We can even have a stab at quantifying matters.
The cost is 3,000 tonnes of packaging. We know what that costs us, the value of the landfill tax. Around £80 a tonne. So, call it quarter of a million pounds. Spending upon Easter eggs is some £400 million a year. The joy produced must be of greater value than that £400 million otherwise we’d not be spending it in the first place. And yes, £400 million is more than £250,000.
We thus have our answer to the prodnoses worrying about the cost of Easter egg packaging. Piss off matey, you’ve missed the point entirely.