By Brian Clark Howard on Apr 12, 2011

5 Absurdly Over-Packaged Foods

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People can be passionate about packaging.

We’ve all been frustrated after getting a seemingly giant box, then wading through layers of tape, bubble wrap and tissue paper, only to find a tiny item no bigger than a credit card.

Sunsweet Ones prunes are individually wrapped and come in 7- and 12-ounce containers.

On the other end of the spectrum, good packaging design can catch our eye and make us as giddy as Lisa Simpson, who once remarked that the perfect packaging on “Mapple” products totally “got her.”

[search type="recycling" what="plastic wrap" what label="plastic wrap"]

Sometimes there’s tension between consumers and manufacturers. The eco-minded want packaging that is as minimal as possible. And fully recyclable, compostable and made with 100 percent post-consumer content.

The industry often fires back that they don’t want their products to start decomposing in the store, and they have to make things harder to shoplift (hence those bulky containers around miniscule memory cards, or elaborate security systems).

Yes, packaging can make things more convenient to take on the go. But have these single-item packages gone too far?

1. Individually Wrapped Prunes (aka Dried Plums)

Packed with antioxidants and, um, fiber, prunes are a healthy and tasty, if acquired, snack. Boosters say individual wrapping makes prunes easy to take on the go. That’s an interesting idea, but are you really going to want to stick one in your pocket?

If you are going to throw a few in your gym bag, why not use a sealable bag, which you can rinse out and reuse day after day?

READ: Recycling To-Go Plastics

2. Plastic-Wrapped Bananas

Bananas' natural thick skin is nature's ideal packaging, nothing extra required. Photo: Flickr/AntyDiluvian

Del Monte recently tested plastic-wrapped bananas, which the company claims keeps the produce fresher longer, and thereby result in less food waste and less shipping. The product is marketed as a “Natural Energy Snack on the Go.” Dole bagged bananas have also been spotted in vending machines.

Bloggers pounced on the concept, pointing out that bananas already come in a tough – and biodegradable! – natural packaging. Some wondered if the plastic was really about being able to charge more for the same fruit.

True, Adam Werbach makes the provocative point that we should probably worry more about eating in season and less about how our fruit is packaged, but for many, putting a wrapper on something our moms used to hand us every day was just too much to swallow.

READ: Low on Cash? These Organic Foods Are Still a Must

3. Pre-Wrapped Corn

An alternative to packaging corn? Sell it in its original, non-shucked form. Photo: Flickr/Rex Roof

At least with potatoes or cukes, the farmer harvests the food, rinses it off, and ships it to market, where it may or may not get covered with additional packaging. But with corn, someone has to shuck it, aka remove its hearty natural packaging, rinse it off, then cover it back up with non-natural packaging. That seems like a lot of labor, to save the shopper a few seconds (and rob them of more connection to what they’re eating).

To take a step back, a la Adam Werbach, we might ask why so much of the corn we grow is actually fed to livestock, or processed into sugar and other additives for junk food and hundreds of other products. Those are important issues, though they may not be as obvious as an ear covered in cellophane.

READ: Get the Facts on Sustainable Packaging

4. Individually Wrapped Jelly Beans

The Jelly Belly 20 Flavor Twists come individually wrapped.

Ronald Reagan’s favorite treat, Jelly Bellies come in countless flavors, from caramel corn to canned dog food, and from peach to pencil shavings. But did you know the pint-sized candies are also sold individually wrapped?

READ: How to Avoid Candy Wrapper #FAIL

5. Shrink-Wrapped Potatoes and Cucumbers

Plastic-wrapped vegetables are popping up in supermarkets across the country. Photo: Flickr/Corgipants

Michael Pollan and Alice Waters have told us to shop the perimeter of the supermarket, and to avoid the heavily processed foods in the middle, which tend to be loaded with sugars and fats, and which tend to be over-packaged. However, plastic wrap seems to be spreading outward.

For a long time, conscientious consumers have been bringing their own bags to market, so they don’t have to rely on those rolls of plastic bags to haul home a few onions or sugar snap peas. But when the produce is already covered in plastic, what’s one to do?

READ: Shop, Recycle, Reclaim Your Day

You may also like…
Dell to Use Mushroom Packaging
Food Companies to Trim Packaging Waste by 2.5 Billion Pounds

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Comments

  1. says

    We’ve gone MUCH too far on this. We became over protective, over clean. How can you choose a fresh selection of veggies if you cannot smell the freshness in the food? Those wrappings put a barrier between us and our food. And create lots of trash to fill the landfills. Too bad.

  2. Andrea says

    what about lunchables? the food items are individually wrapped, then put in a plastic tray, then put inside a box. the packaging outweighs the food! these should be outlawed!

  3. Julie says

    rice like uncle bens is overpackaged too. It comes in a box, then inside that is a smaller plastic bag and half of that is air, then the small bit of rice inside that. so you are buying a few cups of dry rice, but it is on the shelf like this 12″ tall box.

  4. Linda A. says

    Whenever I see those individually-wrapped prunes, and especially when I see the commercials for them, I get to thinking, “What are they going to have next? Individually-wrapped raisins?” It’s ridiculous! I’ve never seen wrapped corn or wrapped sweet potatoes, though.

  5. Chris says

    How do we stop it? That is the question and answer to all of this stupidity. And yes, why bring your own bag to not use plastic when they start wrapping the food? This crap does not make sense.

  6. says

    Anytime I can avoid my produce touching plastic, I do. I would never by produce shrink-wrapped, and I don’t ever use plastic bags for produce either. Whole Foods, for example, offers brown recycled paper bags, which are a great alternative to plastic. They are easily reused and/or recycled. As far as candy goes; it’s tough to find a candy company that is conscientious enough to eliminate excess packaging. Nice article :)

  7. says

    For years I have always avoided over packaged products, and shopped accordingly. The store that annoys me the most is Trader Joe’s! Not only do they over package over all, but items that have no business being packaged in the first place. You can’t buy one green pepper, it has to be three green peppers, biscotti individually wrapped in a box, etc. This store has great items, healthy items and presents it’s self as an earth friendly choice for your family (reusable shopping bags to name just one.) It is so bad that I now I will pay more at other stores for most of my produce and anything else I feel does not need any type of packaging for that matter. Don’t even get me started on the carbon foot print issue, where it came from before Monrovia CA.

  8. sunny mitchell says

    It’s really simple! Don’t buy these absurdly wrapped products & tell the store mgmt. and all of your friends. You have to hurt the idiots in the pocketbook to get their attention. Their focus is on profit and not the well-being of Americans or America! As for me, I am in the process of planting my own organic garden. There is more than one way to send the message and save your own body and budget!!

  9. says

    “We’ve all been frustrated after getting a seemingly giant box, then wading through layers of tape, bubble wrap and tissue paper, only to find a tiny item no bigger than a credit card.”

    This always annoyed me with toys when I was younger. The doll or playset seemed to have so many pieces, but when I got it home and opened it up, I found it was mostly cardboard.

  10. says

    The amount of packaging we find in the U.S. and in other countries is truly saddening. I’m sure that unless it becomes illegal, this is again something that consumers have to vote against with their dollars. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t buy something that’s heavily packaged.

    So find food stores where you can buy foods in bulk, and voice your opinion to store managers when possible. I know the national discount food chain w/ the initials TJ’s is heavy on packaging, and although my boyfriend and I have boycotted their packaged foods, I still voice my opinion when I go in. I feel that if they received just 5 complaints a day things would change. Imagine if every store in the U.S. received complaints about their over-packaged products in a one-month period. Hmmm, should we start a campaign?

  11. Creeping critter says

    Two ways to solve this:

    1) make fully biodegradeable packaging. Or

    2) simply don’t buy it.

    Choice number two will hurt them more so that willnchange their thinking but how many people have really thought to do this protest outside of these Eco-forums?

  12. Janet says

    If you ever go to an Asian grocery, October 5th Bakery is one of the worst brands for excessive packaging. There are individually wrapped almost cookies inside of a tin can, which is shrink wrapped. OK, I admit that I’m guilty of liking individually wrapped stuff for on-to-go convenience. But I can’t understand why anyone would put extra plastic over a tin can. I once bought a box of coconut phoenix rolls and I was thoroughly disappointed with how small the cookies were. I felt like I was mostly paying for plastic.

    I feel like it’s impossible to avoid a lot of packaging when you’re at Costco. Some things only come in pairs that are shrink wrapped together. And I just can’t resist when there are coupons for that sort of stuff.

    However, one thing I think EVERYONE can and should easily avoid is gift baskets. They’re EXTREMELY expensive and you only get tiny bits of food. You’re mostly paying for plastic and paper that will go to the trash.

  13. Peggy Penningtonly says

    HOTWHEELS ARE OVER WRAPPED!!!!!!!
    Also, Barbies and other children’s toys are over wrapped. Opening the toy lasts longer then the toy itself! ITS AN OUTRAGE!!! THIS IS MADNESS THAT NEEDS TO BE STOPPED!!!!!

  14. Harold Glass says

    Yes, All of this individually prepackaged ideals have even gone to the frozen fish markets! why cant they package the products one – time ? It is unbelievable where plastic trash really comes from – now we all have to worry about finding shears to open up food in the kitchen…What would chef Ramsey be saying, and not to stir up any online gossip.

  15. Lynne says

    I just recycle every piece of paper and plastic that comes into my house so I don’t feel too guilty about buying these items. I place soft plastic wrappings in with my plastic bags and take them back to the store, therefore I create 1 small bag of actual trash a week.

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