While some may choose to dismiss their arguments as merely self-serving, the packaging industry argues that current packaging technologies not only reduce production costs (i.e., they economize on scarce resources), they actually reduce waste. Before legislators rush to ban certain materials, their arguments deserve at least some consideration.

  1. On the average, as the amount of packaging is increased, the amount of food waste is decreased. Food processing and packaging remove the husks, peels, vegetable tops, bones, etc. before the food reaches the consumer. These wastes are often used for animal feed. For example, the waste from three or four ears of fresh corn equals 1.5 pounds; that from a one pound bag of frozen corn kernels is 0.14 ounce. If all the orange juice consumed daily in New York City had to be made from fresh oranges rather than from frozen and packaged concentrate, the orange peels which would need to be dumped somewhere would weigh as much as two ocean liners. However, when processed and packaged into juice concentrate, the resulting peels are reprocessed into animal feed and, in some instances, biologicals such as Vitamin C tablets.

    What may appear to be excessive packaging on the products we take home may actually reduce the packaging necessary to prevent spoilage or breakage in distribution – which would itself increase waste. Indeed, research at the University of Arizona, based on landfill excavation analysis, indicates that households in Mexico City, which consume little packaged food compared to American households, discard 33 to 50 percent more solid waste. [53] Therefore, to conclude automatically, as many do, that packaging makes a net contribution to waste would be an error.

  2. Packaging protects the consumer by carrying detailed instructions for product use.

  3. Packaging protects the consumer with tamper-evident and child-resistant systems.

  4. Packaging protects products from harm during transportation and display.

  5. Since manufacturers do not want to incur shipping costs which are high relative to the market value of the product, nor to use packaging which takes up valuable shelf selling space, improvements in packaging technology have actually reduced the amount of packaging relative to product.

    For example, plastic soft drink bottles are now 21 percent lighter than they were in 1977. [54] Did plastics users reduce the amount of material used only to reduce MSW? Hardly! With the rise in oil prices in the 1970s, the cost of virgin plastic made from petroleum feed-stocks rose. Fabricators had an incentive to develop techniques which permitted less material to be used.

In the same vein, a survey by the Chemical Manufacturers Association found that between 1981 and 1986, chemical plants reduced their solid hazardous waste production by 56 percent and recycled 70 percent of the solid waste they generated. [55] While it was clearly in the interests of packaging manufacturers and chemical companies to reduce the volume of waste generated and to recycle as much of their own waste as possible in response to higher prices for raw materials, it was also in society's interest. Changes in relative prices – i.e., pure market forces – generated desirable outcomes for everyone.

Aluminum beverage cans are now so light that it is only the pressure of the carbonation which keeps them from collapsing in transit. The amount of glass in non-refillable bottles has been reduced by 43 percent. [56] Aluminum foil, once used as a laminate material in multilayer paper and plastic packages has been replaced in many applications by metalization, which coats plastic film or paper with gaseous aluminum.

Rather than ship water, many firms are now test-marketing concentrates of such products as laundry detergents and household cleaners which can be mixed at home.

Finally, fabricators of materials that can be reused on the container-manufacturing line habitually run scrap back into the mix. Doing this meets the fabricator's own economic interest while at the same time meeting society's interests via less waste through the MSW.