This year we received more cardboard than gift
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This year we received more cardboard than gift

This year our family received cardboard for Christmas.

Of course there were beautiful, thoughtful, expensive gifts in that cardboard, but if I had to weigh it all up, I would say we received more cardboard than gift.

It wasn't until I had children that I discovered Australian families finish every present-giving event wading through piles of colourful, glossy printed cardboard.

Don't get me wrong, gifts are wonderful and children love receiving presents, but the amount of packaging being used by the toy industry is not sustainable. If nothing else, it takes up all the empty bottle space in the recycling bin.

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It wasn't until I had children that I discovered Australian families finish every present-giving event wading through piles of glossy printed cardboard.

It wasn't until I had children that I discovered Australian families finish every present-giving event wading through piles of glossy printed cardboard. Credit:Ryan Mcvay

Doll houses, cars, trucks, tree houses, kitchens, play figurines, fighting figurines, bubble machines. Everything comes frozen in a scenario that ends as soon as the package is removed.

The boxes are sometimes very useful for storage, but usually it is just a display designed to make something appear more active and exciting than it really is. The packaging replaces imagination and creates unrealistic expectations. Sorry the water gun didn't immediately transfer you to a colour-exploding war zone full of pows and zaps, kid.

And why do toy companies feel compelled to strap down their dolls tighter than the secret service would a water torture victim? Liberating the toy requires sharp scissors (not always available) and finding a tiny gap between the cardboard and stupid plastic ties to slice it open.

Nearly all of these toys are made in poor countries where waste is not properly managed. Just imagine for a second all those piles of soft plastic ties, sticky tape, plastic windows and cardboard sitting in the factory waiting to be attached.

One of the worst offenders, I found, is local Melbourne company Moose Toys, who produce the Shopkins range.

I wrote to them complaining about the obscene amount of packaging surrounding a Shopkins Chef Club Hot Spot kitchen. Their response was that their head offices in Cheltenham have five-star energy efficiency and a strict recycling policy. Great. Sounds like a nice place to work. Their toy packaging must also meet standards for "transit damage testing and have sufficient space for contents and imagery for the item".

But it isn't just children's toys. What about the tech-industry indulging the culture of un-boxing? Where adults get a book-sized box of hard packaging to display a pair of ear buds that could fit in a sandwich bag.

In the 1990s, the German government introduced a system called The Green Dot. Producers have to pay a licence fee to cover the cost of collecting, sorting and recycling packaging for their products. The more packaging, the higher the licence fee. You've already worked out the smart companies use as little packaging as possible. Australia's aversion to regulation is unlikely to see something this effective introduced. But there is nothing stopping Australians from cheekily returning all that packaging to headquarters. After all, we only want the products, not all that baggage.

Lucy Battersby is an Age senior writer.

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