Second outing: How un-green is my luxury shopping?

Following Jorn Barger’s tip no. 10, my interpretation of it, I am giving a second outing here to one of my earliest posts on this blog.

The post was written in April 2007, when I lived in Edinburgh. The monstrous question of luxury shopping being un-green rears its ugly head again. It is after all Christmas time and gift-shopping time. Unlike others, who can brave the crowds, I do my shopping on Amazon and a couple of other online retailers, mostly shipping the presents directly to the recipients. However the sheer amount of packaging that surrounds the rare presents that first come to me to be handed over in person astounds me. For 2 books, 2 wall-calendars and 2 paint kits, Amazon sent me a box which was about 12″ high and 18″ wide, and was mostly full of bubble wrap. I am now using it to store up my paper recycling!

What do your experiences show?

Those of you, who, like me, seek a dose of frivolity and gossip once in a while, will have noticed the brouhaha surrounding the launch of Anya Hindmarch’s newest product, a cotton tote proclaiming “I am not a plastic bag“. Anya Hindmarch designs those fabulous purple velvet bags for British Airways First Class and is an all-round creative bag designer lady.

The said cotton tote was launched with much hype to target the Absfab crowd but made its way to the eBay-vendors who subsequently sold the bag for 100s of pounds. Apparently the bag is available for £5 at Sainsbury’s from this week, another green step from Sainsbury’s (more on which in a later post) and another chance to look sheepish, if you are an early adopter of fashion trends…

However if you also spend some time buying mass-luxury or true luxury brands, you will have noticed how much packaging comes with every such shopping expedition.

And have you tried telling the salespeople that you do not need the packaging and you will rather carry it in your Anya Hindmarch ‘not a plastic bag’ bag or any other bag you may have? They positively get frothing at the mouths. After all, what about the free brand promotion that we give them, by carrying those bags around as we go about the rest of our Saturday chores?

Here is the packaging payload with two of the premium British brands that I spent money on recently:

* One candle at Jo Malone: Wrapped in at least 3 sheets of black tissue paper, then placed inside a corrugated box with black letters imprinted on cream, then tied with a black ribbon with a neat bow, then put in a carry bag about 12 inches high, then more tissue is added to ‘protect’ the shopping. Ooh!

* One top at LK Bennett: Wrapped in 2 large white tissue paper sheets, stuck together with 2 adhesive stickers, then popped in a large white bag with the brand name in black on it, and then just to make sure you don’t accidentally drop your shopping from the depths of the bag, another sticker across the top.

The heartening bit? Almost all big bags are now recyclable paper, except the shiny bits of intertwined ropes that make up the handles of these bags.

The bad bit? I live in a soi-disant Conservation Area and my local council does not pick recycling from my door step. I must therefore load it all in a car and take it to the nearest recycling banks, about 1.4 miles away. What a waste..

Why can’t we appreciate some fine things in life, without being lumbered with all this packaging? Is this the only way their brand managers spell premium? Tons of packaging? Why not learn from Apple? My iPod came in a box about 5″X5″X1/2″ in dimension. Admittedly it is now so passé to have an iPod that it is no longer premium, but full marks for sleek and desirable packaging.

It may not be easy being green, especially when you are buying a tad premium, but Anya Hindmarch – and Apple – may have taken the first designer step towards helping some way towards making it greener.

18 thoughts on “Second outing: How un-green is my luxury shopping?

  1. Tons of packaging is alas the modern life! The package is often better and bigger than the product and it entices the customer into thinking that they are getting more for less! And the luxury brands are the biggest cheats of all!

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  2. Tons of packaging is alas the modern life! The package is often better and bigger than the product and it entices the customer into thinking that they are getting more for less! And the luxury brands are the biggest cheats of all!

    Like

  3. I get it and I don’t. Mail is so tough on packages that to avoid lots of broken things they do overdo at times. I live in a country where trees are not much grown for paper and paper is expensive, so we are plastic sack territory except for the pricey boutiques. And we WANT those shiny paper carriers, because we also recycle books among our friends and they are much better for collecting, carrying and redistributing books.

    What I hate with a passion is these plastic bubbles which are impossible to open and usually have layers of printed card inside too. It takes all day to open printer ink. I suppose that’s in reaction to a shopping public apt to steal the tiny boxes otherwise.

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  4. I get it and I don’t. Mail is so tough on packages that to avoid lots of broken things they do overdo at times. I live in a country where trees are not much grown for paper and paper is expensive, so we are plastic sack territory except for the pricey boutiques. And we WANT those shiny paper carriers, because we also recycle books among our friends and they are much better for collecting, carrying and redistributing books.

    What I hate with a passion is these plastic bubbles which are impossible to open and usually have layers of printed card inside too. It takes all day to open printer ink. I suppose that’s in reaction to a shopping public apt to steal the tiny boxes otherwise.

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  5. @ Nita: I could not agree more.

    But as a petite person, I am fond of citing this old-fashioned adage: Good Things Come in Small Packages 🙂

    @ Judith: Thanks for your note. I understand your point expressing the mixed feelings perfectly.

    At some level, I can see why mailed packages need a lot of wrapping. But a Jo Malone candle just bought from the store could definitely go easy on the wrapping, in my opinion. How clumsy do they assume their adult customers to be?

    I understand your point about paper and plastic too. If the paper packaging were not so ‘processed’ with colour and gloss, most would be recyclable. Plastic can also be re-used and some types are now compostable.

    I so agree with your point about print cartridges which I find over-packaged too.

    I recently got a box of Prestat chocolates which came wrapped as follows: it came in a large shiny bag with a ribbon handle. The box was tied with another ribbon; the box is made of some kind of card board; when one opens it, there was a sticker across neatly folded over rice paper; the rice paper had four folds, one from each direction so to speak; then after one opens those folds, there was a square piece of corrugated board and a square sheet of rice paper. By the time I reach the chocolate, I am not only thoroughly pissed off but also I almost need it to replenish my energy wasted! This is a gross waste of paper. The only reason why I name them here is because I want to highlight just how stupid this practice is!

    I do sometimes re-use the bags too. But if one does not remember to take a shopping bag – and I have been doing so for 7 years, when it was not even fashionable – in the festive season, one can collect too many and never give them away fast enough.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  6. @ Nita: I could not agree more.

    But as a petite person, I am fond of citing this old-fashioned adage: Good Things Come in Small Packages 🙂

    @ Judith: Thanks for your note. I understand your point expressing the mixed feelings perfectly.

    At some level, I can see why mailed packages need a lot of wrapping. But a Jo Malone candle just bought from the store could definitely go easy on the wrapping, in my opinion. How clumsy do they assume their adult customers to be?

    I understand your point about paper and plastic too. If the paper packaging were not so ‘processed’ with colour and gloss, most would be recyclable. Plastic can also be re-used and some types are now compostable.

    I so agree with your point about print cartridges which I find over-packaged too.

    I recently got a box of Prestat chocolates which came wrapped as follows: it came in a large shiny bag with a ribbon handle. The box was tied with another ribbon; the box is made of some kind of card board; when one opens it, there was a sticker across neatly folded over rice paper; the rice paper had four folds, one from each direction so to speak; then after one opens those folds, there was a square piece of corrugated board and a square sheet of rice paper. By the time I reach the chocolate, I am not only thoroughly pissed off but also I almost need it to replenish my energy wasted! This is a gross waste of paper. The only reason why I name them here is because I want to highlight just how stupid this practice is!

    I do sometimes re-use the bags too. But if one does not remember to take a shopping bag – and I have been doing so for 7 years, when it was not even fashionable – in the festive season, one can collect too many and never give them away fast enough.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Like

  7. I ask for less packaging at checkout–I’m referring to grocer’s mainly, since I dislike shopping and crowds. There are some items that simply need so further sacking. I do have a large carry-in bag for some items, but they never cover everything you need. So we are stuck with those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags here. I re-use some, and recycle some, but I don’t believe everything I bring to those dumpsters for recycling are really being recycled.
    As for those plastic bubbles, some online green retailers use veggie-based packing peanuts (LL Bean? Patagonia? REI? can’t remember).
    When a package arrives, I am more interested in these packing peanuts than the item sometimes, and will grab one, run it under water to see if it dissolves.
    The awful styrofoam kind that doesn’t desolve—and will not decompose for trillions of years :-)–I grind them up to use as a sort of Perlite –for soil aeration (we have heavy clay soil).
    The plastic bubbles – reuse them for shipping, or oft-times, local retailers will take them from you for re-use themselves.
    But really, at least paper can more often than not be re-used or recycled, but the styrofoam peanuts are the absolute worst invention I can think of. There is no palatable way to get rid of it, once it leaves the production line. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know

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  8. I ask for less packaging at checkout–I’m referring to grocer’s mainly, since I dislike shopping and crowds. There are some items that simply need so further sacking. I do have a large carry-in bag for some items, but they never cover everything you need. So we are stuck with those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags here. I re-use some, and recycle some, but I don’t believe everything I bring to those dumpsters for recycling are really being recycled.
    As for those plastic bubbles, some online green retailers use veggie-based packing peanuts (LL Bean? Patagonia? REI? can’t remember).
    When a package arrives, I am more interested in these packing peanuts than the item sometimes, and will grab one, run it under water to see if it dissolves.
    The awful styrofoam kind that doesn’t desolve—and will not decompose for trillions of years :-)–I grind them up to use as a sort of Perlite –for soil aeration (we have heavy clay soil).
    The plastic bubbles – reuse them for shipping, or oft-times, local retailers will take them from you for re-use themselves.
    But really, at least paper can more often than not be re-used or recycled, but the styrofoam peanuts are the absolute worst invention I can think of. There is no palatable way to get rid of it, once it leaves the production line. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know

    Like

  9. @ Jackie: Thanks for your note with a fascinating amount of detail. I am hoping Amit will be here soon and add to the debate with his knowledge and enthusiasm. Some of your advice here will also appeal to him and I am sure he knows more stuff which will interest you.

    For a change, I will just watch the discussion 🙂

    Like

  10. @ Jackie: Thanks for your note with a fascinating amount of detail. I am hoping Amit will be here soon and add to the debate with his knowledge and enthusiasm. Some of your advice here will also appeal to him and I am sure he knows more stuff which will interest you.

    For a change, I will just watch the discussion 🙂

    Like

  11. I say let free market take care of this. I wouldn’t want to coerce anyone into using less packaging just because all that packaging is superfluous and even though eco-friendly options are available, as that would be curtailing people’s freedom. And we all know how much we love our freedoms. 😉

    Kidding!! 🙂

    Shefaly, you give me more credit than I deserve.
    I actually learned something new from jackie about how to use styrofoam peanuts.

    I think the least we can do is let the businesses know about the excessive packaging, because most of the times we talk about it with our friends, but don’t go the extra step of giving some feedback to the people who matter. I’ve actually cut down on buying books from Amazon since I started going to the local library few years ago. And I found this website that has some ideas on reusing styrofoam packaging. I’d think that dropping them off at local shops that sell art stuff would be a good idea, since they probably ship items. But that simply gets it out of our hands into someone else’s.

    When I give gifts, I mostly wrap it in comics section from the newspaper.

    Like

  12. I say let free market take care of this. I wouldn’t want to coerce anyone into using less packaging just because all that packaging is superfluous and even though eco-friendly options are available, as that would be curtailing people’s freedom. And we all know how much we love our freedoms. 😉

    Kidding!! 🙂

    Shefaly, you give me more credit than I deserve.
    I actually learned something new from jackie about how to use styrofoam peanuts.

    I think the least we can do is let the businesses know about the excessive packaging, because most of the times we talk about it with our friends, but don’t go the extra step of giving some feedback to the people who matter. I’ve actually cut down on buying books from Amazon since I started going to the local library few years ago. And I found this website that has some ideas on reusing styrofoam packaging. I’d think that dropping them off at local shops that sell art stuff would be a good idea, since they probably ship items. But that simply gets it out of our hands into someone else’s.

    When I give gifts, I mostly wrap it in comics section from the newspaper.

    Like

  13. @ VBR: You have been MIA quite long. Welcome back. And that is a nice line too. Alas gifts have an obesity problem which is superficial; humans have internal obesity issues, around the organs… 😉

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  14. @ VBR: You have been MIA quite long. Welcome back. And that is a nice line too. Alas gifts have an obesity problem which is superficial; humans have internal obesity issues, around the organs… 😉

    Like

  15. @ Amit: At any rate you know more than I do and yes, that styrofoam thing from Jackie was new to me. 🙂

    I note what you say about merely shifting our disposal or recycling burden on to someone else, but it gets reused at least once more, does it not? if it goes to a house, chances are they will reuse it once too. Already we have reduced use through reuse, haven’t we?

    I like your idea of wrapping presents in cartoon pages. Trouble is I rarely buy newspapers and when I do, it is the FT where headlines like ‘buy to let financing evaporates’ or ‘Help from central banks’ appear. Not very festive or complimentary, are they? I could use the FT magazine but I like to keep them…

    A town in Devon, UK has banned all manner of plastic bags and a neighbourhood store near me is charging for plastic bags. The latter case, she backed down quickly after people pointed out that most bring their own bags and if they need a rare bag, she should not charge extortionately – she is charging a 400% markup and although this is a wealthy area, people are mostly bankers who notice money issues swiftly – or she should offer compostable bags.

    Somewhere in these western countries, I think there is space to launch the concept of the raddi-wala as in India. He comes to the door, weighs up our separated recyclable rubbish, buys it off us and takes it to recycling. I have in the early-1990s made up to 1200 Rupees sometimes in just a month’s recycling, mostly newsprint, magazines (they do not take glossies as they cannot be recycled), plastic (mostly milk pouches) and the occasional clear glass bottles of ketchup or oil. What do you think?

    Like

  16. @ Amit: At any rate you know more than I do and yes, that styrofoam thing from Jackie was new to me. 🙂

    I note what you say about merely shifting our disposal or recycling burden on to someone else, but it gets reused at least once more, does it not? if it goes to a house, chances are they will reuse it once too. Already we have reduced use through reuse, haven’t we?

    I like your idea of wrapping presents in cartoon pages. Trouble is I rarely buy newspapers and when I do, it is the FT where headlines like ‘buy to let financing evaporates’ or ‘Help from central banks’ appear. Not very festive or complimentary, are they? I could use the FT magazine but I like to keep them…

    A town in Devon, UK has banned all manner of plastic bags and a neighbourhood store near me is charging for plastic bags. The latter case, she backed down quickly after people pointed out that most bring their own bags and if they need a rare bag, she should not charge extortionately – she is charging a 400% markup and although this is a wealthy area, people are mostly bankers who notice money issues swiftly – or she should offer compostable bags.

    Somewhere in these western countries, I think there is space to launch the concept of the raddi-wala as in India. He comes to the door, weighs up our separated recyclable rubbish, buys it off us and takes it to recycling. I have in the early-1990s made up to 1200 Rupees sometimes in just a month’s recycling, mostly newsprint, magazines (they do not take glossies as they cannot be recycled), plastic (mostly milk pouches) and the occasional clear glass bottles of ketchup or oil. What do you think?

    Like

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