02.What consumers want
The total amount of packaging vs product is often not immediately obvious at the point of sale. Beauty products, such as moisturisers, are often packed in boxes that are much larger than the net amount of your purchase. Besides feeling outraged at the resources that have gone to waste, many shoppers are also left feeling misled by the deceptive size of the package.
A number of CHOICE readers also pointed to the fact that they’ve unwittingly bought goods that had a large amount of packaging before they reached customers in the store. For example, items of clothing may arrive from distributors in individual plastic bags, which are removed before they’re placed on display.
Eleanor Corcoran from Sydney was surprised to find there was more plastic wrapping than she’d anticipated when the sales assistant brought a new singlet from the storeroom of a department store.
“I always consider the amount of packaging before purchasing an item,” she said in a letter to CHOICE. “I thought I was making a choice with minimal packing, only to accidentally discover that this was not the case. I now question how often this might be happening to me and other consumers.”
The concerns raised by our readers are mirrored by the attitudes of the broader community. A 2004 Newspoll survey conducted across the states showed that over 80% of respondents believe packaging waste is a problem.
Three out of four Australians think products have too much packaging, with the vast majority saying they’d like more to be done to combat packaging waste.
What we found
CHOICE asked readers to send in examples of overpackaging, and received 36 examples considered to be wasteful or excessive. Among the more frequently cited products were packaged foods (9), cosmetics (4) and pharmaceutical goods (16). Only two readers had written to the companies to express their concerns, with several others saying they’d like to complain but didn’t have enough time.
The medication Somac and its new packaging were of particular concern — a quarter of the examples we received were of this stomach relief medication, distributed by Nycomed Australia. Originally, the product was sold in a slim box containing two blister packs of 15 tablets. But the new-look Somac contains six separate mini ‘envelopes’ of five tablets inside each 18 x 17 x 5 cm pack (see image).
When contacted by CHOICE and told that readers were concerned about overpackaging, a Nycomed spokesperson argued that the current incarnation of Somac is a “product improvement” based on “extensive consultative market research with doctors and patients, internationally and at a local level”.
Nycomed says the new format is more convenient for patients, and disagrees that the packaging is excessive — the materials used, it points out, are recyclable. But one of our concerned readers commented if they wanted to recycle the packaging, they’d have to strip the metal from the card, an operation that would require a knife or pair of scissors. Multiply that by six and it’s something of an undertaking.