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Packaging vs. environment? Readers share their thoughts

May 30, 2018 GMT

A seemingly never-ending source of controversy among some of my readers is the size and kind of product packaging we find in stores. Whether we’re thinking of cereal boxes or bags of frozen foods, the products we buy do come in a wide range of sizes.

One of the money-saving tactics I’ve long espoused is to consider the final, ounce-per-ounce or unit-per-unit cost in price. While large, “value size” or “family size” products are at times a good buy, I find that smaller sizes of many items are a better financial deal when a coupon is taken into consideration.

For example, consider two bottles of shampoo: A 12-ounce bottle is on sale for $2.49, while a larger, 24-ounce bottle sells for $4.49. At first glance, the larger bottle seems like a better deal because you’re saving 50 cents over buying two 12-ounce bottles. However, add a high-value coupon into the mix, which is valid on both bottle sizes, and you’ll start to see my perspective on this. With a $2 coupon, the smaller bottle drops to 49 cents — just 4 cents per ounce — while the 24-ounce bottle, now at $2.49, works out to 10 cents per ounce. Even with the coupon, the cost of the shampoo inside the larger bottle is more than double the end cost of buying the smaller bottle.

This “coupon math” makes perfect sense to me, and it’s one of the ways I’ve been saving money for my family throughout the years I’ve been a loyal coupon user. However, not everyone agrees.

DEAR JILL: I read one of your columns where you openly advocated purchasing the smaller size of things like laundry detergent and cereal because your end price

[post-coupon] is lower for the smaller varieties. I am writing to discourage you from continuing this predatory practice! Whether you realize it or not, your mouthpiece potentially influences many, and our planet does not need an excess of wasteful packaging due to shoppers buying many small items instead of larger products with greater contents within.

There are far too many disposable items already. I am dismayed that some things, like toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, are not always recyclable. We must all do our part to save this planet, and this responsibility should start with you.” — MIRANDA G.

I’ve often wondered why the responsibility to use less packaging is directed toward the end consumer and not toward the brands offering their products in a myriad of sizes. These products and packaging have already been created and are sitting on my store’s shelves. Whether I buy them or not, their potential damage to the environment has already been done — the products exist in multiple sizes and likely will be purchased by someone.

Our family does recycle all of the paper, glass, metal and plastic that our household uses. While I believe in making educated purchases, my first priority is to my family’s budget. I always aim to be a good steward of our finances, and deliberately purchasing a more expensive item because it comes in a larger size is not the best use of my shopping dollars.

With any topic such as this, there are always two perspectives from which approach it, and I seem to have just as many readers who feel that this topic’s bottom line is the financial one.

DEAR JILL: I just have to thank you for standing your ground when those people email you about how terrible it is that you buy smaller products, making for more packaging in the environment. People like that just love to make trouble. They aren’t concerned about saving money like you and I. I find it surprising that they even bother to read your column, or use coupons. After all, they are killing trees when they produce coupons! By the way, I do recycle, I’m not an environmental naysayer, and I save energy by hanging my clothes to dry on a clothesline. I wonder how many of those people do that.” — PAT G.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.