Buying More Means Less Packaging

How does San Francisco's Recycling Program help reduce the waste stream while saving local consumers money? Through its annual "Save Money and the Environment Too" campaign, San Franciscans learn that purchasing larger-sized items, such as groceries, is cheaper and reduces the packaging that eventually winds up in the trash.

For example, if a family bought cereal boxes instead of individual snack packs, the savings for a family of four would total $118 per year and produce 50 percent less waste.

This effort, which is the nation's largest, longest running regional environmental awareness campaign, predicts that those who heed its message can save as much as $3,000 per year. [See "San Francisco's Tips to Save Money, Reduce Waste" on left.]

The program is a cooperative effort among 110 cities and nine counties in the San Francisco Bay area, 400 supermarkets, and many public and private partners. Boosted by a $400,000 media push, the message blanketed the nine-county area. In addition, the program's coalition also sponsors two waste prevention websites that include information specific to the Bay area -

David Assmann, the project's coordinator, says the campaign remains a success because its influence and audience grows every year. Since 1996, the coalition has gauged the campaign's effectiveness with exit polls and sales surveys conducted during the six-week push and through the year.

Next year, the coalition plans to raise awareness through more expansive media coverage as well as through additional support from the coalition and its long-term partners.

"The project's nationwide appeal and long-term, environmental efforts contribute to the uniqueness of this on-going campaign," Assmann says.

New York - Nearly 90 years ago, the Girls Scouts of the USA began with a pledge: "Use resources wisely, and make the world a better place." In September 1999, these words prompted environmental initiatives by the organization and one of its cookie makers - Little Brownie Bakers, Louisville, Ky. - to redesign its cookie boxes.

Phyllis Creekmore, product sales manager for Northwest Georgia's Girl Scout council, says the new boxes reduce the use of paper, cardboard, plastic, as well as resizes the packages to fit more cookies per box.

"Before, our boxes were all different sizes. Now, they're more uniform," she says. "It's our part of the industry trend to conserve packaging and preserve the environment."

The amount of packaging savings will vary depending on the cookie variety, according to Ellen Ach, media services manager of the Girl Scout Council of America, New York. Nevertheless, Creekmore notes that the redesign will help conserve natural resources and landfill space.

The new packaging also will save costs. "For transporting cookies, [the new boxes] save on trucking - not to mention on the materials," she says.

Ach says the boxes also will help raise awareness of over-packaged goods and energy concerns. "Less packaging means more cases in delivery trucks, and using less fuel," she says.

In the meantime, cookie-lovers should appreciate the new packaging because the number of cookies per box will increase.

Samoas, for example, once placed in plastic trays with separate slots for each cookie, now will be delivered in plastic sleeves, which accommodate 15 more cookies per box and create a net weight increase of 7 percent. Two other cookie varieties will will benefit similarly. The reduced plastic and cardboard will allow for a 17 percent increase in net weight for Lemon Drops and a 17 percent net weight increase for Striped Chocolate Chip.

While conserving packaging is a priority, the "bakers remain conscious of the extra air needed to protect the cookies' freshness," Ach adds. Some of the cookies were too fragile and require individual dividers and more space to protect the product, she says. But environmentalists should not worry. "This was one of our most recent and ambitious environmental initiatives," she says, noting that evaluating how to repackage cookies will be an ongoing process.

Currently, Girls Scouts of the USA licenses two cookie bakers nationwide. The licensing agreement with the Girl Scouts of the USA allows the bakers, such as ABC/Interbake, Richmond, Va., to offer up to eight varieties of cookies. Little Brownie Bakers is the first to change the packaging.

Because cookie orders began rolling in last September and most sales take place between January and April, the sales figures won't be available until this summer.

Founded in 1912 by visionary and environmental advocate Juliette Gordon Low, the Girl Scouts began in Savannah, Ga. with 18 members. As early as 1934, Philadelphia cadets began selling the first commercially baked Girl Scout cookies. Annual cookie sale proceeds help fund local troops' field trips, service projects and other activities. Today, the Scouts continue Low's legacy by advancing environmental initiatives locally, nationally and worldwide.

"Environmental awareness and action has been a tenet of the Girl Scouts since day one," Ach says.

San Francisco's Recycling Program provides these tips to the 110 San Francisco Bay area cities during the "Save Money and the Environment Too" campaign.

* Use rechargeable batteries in toys, flashlights, radios. You can save $200 a year using rechargeable instead of disposable.

* Use cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers. You'll save $600 per child using a diaper laundry service instead of disposable.

* Use a real camera instead of a disposable. You'll save $144 a year (based on 24 pictures a month).

* Buy the largest size you can use:

* Save $118 a year ($2.28 a week) buying cereal in a large box instead of individual snack packs.

* Save $175 a year ($3.37 a week) buying gallon-sized apple juice containers instead of single servings.

* Save $95 per year ($1.82) buying large plastic bottled water jugs instead of 6-packs of 16 ounce bottles. This produces 80 percent less waste.

Other Tips: * Use sponges and dish cloths instead of throwaway paper products.

* Use cloth napkins and towels instead of paper napkins and towels.

* Use refillable pens, pencils and lighters.

* Use washable plates, cups and silverware for parties and picnics instead of disposable products.

* Use electric razors or razors with replaceable blades instead of throwaway razors.

* Buy high quality/ long-life tires. They cost less per mile traveled and help reduce the tire disposal problem in California.

* Use a washable commuter mug for your coffee, eliminating styrofoam and paper cups.

* Use re-refined oil in your car and when you change your oil.