Are Natural Products More Natural without Packaging?

Here’s something that’s always rubbed me the wrong way: I’m a conservationist environmentalist whose job is to design disposable packaging.

There’s a part of me that loves to swoon over impeccable typography or just the right color balance. There’s another part of me that winces whenever something hits the trash bin in my home. I look longingly into that plastic void and wonder how many folks around the nation are absent-mindedly crumpling up something I’ve designed and tossing it into what they perceive to be a limitless hole.

The natural companies I work with are often driven by a higher purpose than to merely to sell more stuff to more folk. They want to make a difference, and packaging is, for lack of a better term, a necessary evil — the cost of doing business. But last week, this caught my eye: In.gredients, a new zero-packaging store in Austin, TX (not coincidentally, home of the Mothership), is opening this fall. Built on the premise of precycling, in.gredients encourages shoppers to bring containers from home and fill ’em up in the store. What a simple, elegant concept. Not only have they bulked up the bulk section, turning it into an entire store, they’ve removed the temptation every shopper meets at least once: the grab-and-go impulse to buy disposable junk at checkout.

I can’t say I’m 100% sure they’re building a sustainable (meaning profitable) business, but I sure hope they are. North Americans’ dependence on disposables is something that’s really gotten under my skin lately. Whether made of potato starch or petroleum doesn’t matter much to me. From bottled water to the cardboard coffee cup, Chinese takeout to locally made frozen yogurt, everything seems to end up in the bin. It’s high time we learned to trade in the branded landfillers and express our individuality-within-conformity in new ways that are a little lighter on Mother Nature.