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Weekend Ponderance

I read an article recently about a grocery chain that has eschewed packaging. Ignore the inconvenience of such things, or the unsanitary nature of such things, or perhaps even the increase in resources that is very likely to result from "saving" on "wasteful" packaging … and consider another controversy that has been much talked about lately.


How would you expect companies to slap their GMO labels onto their food if packaging itself is banned? 

7 Responses to “Weekend Ponderance”

  1. Student says:

    I understand the inconsistency point(s) that you are trying to make, but I’m a little confused about the rest.

    Who is the judge that has decided this is necessarily inconvenient? Who’s decided that this is necessarily unsanitary? How do I know this change necessarily (or at least “very likely”) increases resources used without knowing exactly how they are going about removing packaging?

    Also, is it inconceivable that an alternative to labeling could have been found in which the store takes on the responsibility for displaying that information after they receive it from the company?

    • wintercow20 says:

      There are ready answers to your earlier question. But your last one is, I think, the most interesting. If you look at Prop 37 in California, making stores responsible for labeling was actually part of the law – and in my view is what ultimately doomed the law. Who do you think LIKES having stores be required to label and to track down what and where every product came from? Little mom and pop stores? Farmers markets?

      Nope. It’s yet another regulation nominally aimed to “promote safety” and to help us ignorant consumers but that really further entrenches meg-corporations and big box stores.

      Fortunately, the taxpayers in CA saw through this.

      • Student says:

        Just to be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that law should be written to force stores to do this. I was simply trying to make a point that if a grocery store chain chooses to remove packing (for whatever reasons they wish), I think it would be conceivable that some alternative to package labeling could be found. The idea I put forward might not be the best idea, especially if it is carried out by a government mandate, but I think there could be a better alternative yet to be found. At the very least an alternative who’s costs are outweighed by whatever benefits they receive from removing packages. Admittedly, after reading Josef’s response and thinking about it some more, this is unlikely, but not entirely inconceivable.

  2. Josef says:

    Student: We know the packaging had some purpose precisely because most stores choose to use it. I don’t think it’d be possible for us to determine exactly why, but it’s probably not far-fetched to think that packaging improves sanitation (e.g. many pests have eggs that are carried through air) and convenience (food wrapped in containers don’t easily fall out). So, given that consumers enjoy sanitation and convenience, the stores have an incentive to find some other way to maintain basic standards of them. You can imagine stores throwing away unsold food earlier than usual, spending a huge amount of effort exterminating pests (and in the process spilling insecticide on the food), spending more money on accessories required for consumers’ convenience, et cetera.

    Again, how much they do this, and whether it’s worth whatever “externality” that plastic packaging creates (likely an extremely small amount), I cannot prove to you. But the moral is clear – when you change things arbitrarily on one side of the market, you can’t expect everything else to stay the same.

    • Student says:

      Josef: Thank you for your answers. This should have been something I could have been able to reason out by myself; I’ll have to think about it a little longer next time.

  3. Harry says:

    I think it is clever marketing to sell your customers on as little packaging as possible, although I’m not so sure how you could eliminate all of it. You need at least a few bags to separate the green beans from the strawberries from the yogurt from the milk.

    But speaking about milk, I have a glass bottle on the mantel above my stove in my farmhouse kitchen that came from my uncles’ ( yes, plural) dairy that held a quart of milk that we drank and was delivered to the milk box that is still outside my back door.

    Now, that bottle belonged technically to my uncles before their estates were settled, but I digress.

    On that bottle it says that milk tastes best when sold in glass bottles, and that is correct. Being a connoisseur, I can tell you I could always taste and still do taste an off-flavor from a carton, especially when one drinks straight from the carton, as opposed to politely pouring milk into a glass.

    Among the things I wonder is why nobody in the buy-local, the radical recycling, the pro-labor, and the militant organic crowds have not organized demonstrations to promote milk in glass bottles. Surely there are a few billion to get this stuff to my door before the school buses start running. The drivers could run around in electric trucks, Every dollar spent on this would create a dollar fifty in economic growth, and we would be fighting osteoporosis.

    And as far as labeling, you could put a skull and cross bones on whole milk, which from Holsteins is more than 3%. But that would be another crass marketing ploy.

  4. Harry says:

    I did not mean to ignore your question, WC. The anti-gmo folks do not think about any of this.

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