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Paper of Plastic

The average American generates 300 pounds of packaging waste per year. Sixty percent of this waste once contained food and beverages, and most of that comprises single-use containers like water bottles and yogurt cups. (Worth noting: One out of every three servings of water consumed in the United States now comes in a plastic bottle, only 20 percent of which are recycled.)

The landfill factor is creepy, but the “upstream” aspects of packaging production are just as disturbing: Consider the disappearance of forests for virgin-wood shipping pallets, or the 2 gallons of water used to filter every gallon that’s bottled.

In Paper or Plastic, author Daniel Imhoff illuminates the less explored aspects of our packaging “waste stream” with a series of photos, graphs and short essays. He profiles the lifecycle of packing materials like wood, plastic and metals, as well as the inspired innovation behind packaging reform — from air-pillow shipping inserts to eco-design and take-back laws. The book also contains a wealth of creative and sensible solutions that individuals can employ to reduce packaging waste and an extensive appendix of resources for companies that want to shift to more-sustainable packaging practices. If you’re in search of concrete ways to lighten your environmental footprint, this smart, accessible book is full of great ideas.

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