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Green challenges

Thinking global and acting local, Julie Grundy takes on any challenge we throw at her.

Over-processed food leads to more packaging

Individually-wrapped bananas

Credit: ScrapThisPack / Flickr.com

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Now that I've been doing the nude food challenge for a few weeks, I'm seeing totally useless packaging everywhere! I can't believe how much stuff we wrap in plastic and cardboard even when things don't need it at all.

And I'm not the only one to have noticed. Treehugger.com has a slideshow of Packaging Design At It's Worst, mostly on food items (although computer gear comes in close for sheer wastefulness). And as they point out, some supermarket items create a need for packaging that didn't exist before: I know most kids enjoy a snack at recess, but choosing one that is so messy it needs a plastic shell, with little plastic containers with lids that peel back and little plastic spoons doesn't seem like a bright idea. My mum only ever gave me a few biscuits or some fruit!

That slideshow has stuff that might be common in America, but seems a little outside the norm for most Aussies. Single serves of peanut paste, wrapped like a slice of cheese? Really?

Not to worry, Australia has it's own fair share of useless packaging. Environment Victoria's DUMP and KEEP awards (pdf) showcase the worst packaging while highlighting products that make an effort to reduce their wastefulness.

The Damaging and Useless Materials in Packaging award this year went to a pack of 5 lemons on a plastic tray, wrapped in more plastic - none of that plastic was recyclable. Other finalists included a kid's fruit snack and a self-heating, pre-mixed coffee (what? why does this product even exist?). The Kerbing the Environmental Effect of Packaging award went to Jarrah instant coffee, because they changed from using a non-recyclable, mixed-material package to a fully recyclable, lightweight plastic jar.

Environment Victoria also gave a thumbs up to musa acuminate - the humble banana. They praised its "semi-rigid yet snug wrapping for the irregularly shaped and soft fruit. The packaging is organic in composition and is entirely biodegradable. Yet it is sturdy enough to withstand the point of sale without the need for any additional packaging."

Which is a good point - the closer we get to real food, and the further away we get from processed food, the better it is for the environment. What's the silliest processed food you've ever seen? Was it overpackaged?