If you have ever been tempted to use a machete to open a package of potato chips, or stood heart-broken at a sailboat railing as an unsightly and unholy artificial island composed of Styrofoam (a trademark) and plastic bottles drifted by, then you know how I feel each time I struggle with the curse of American packaging.
We have an English lad by the name of Peter Duran to thank for the advent of modern packaging. He invented the tin can in either 1810 or 1801 depending on how you read the ‘sell by’ date on his metallic brain child.
The tin can was a vast improvement over the old method of storing food which was to place it on a shelf and keep the mice from dragging it away. A mouse, with rare exceptions, is not sufficiently powerful to drag a tin can more than a few hundred feet and the scraping noise inevitably alerts the household cat and there you are with an ex-mouse. . .but the can is still standing.
Fast-forward (and I’m pretty sure you have an app for that) to 1907 and you have the invention of plastic formed by combining the substance phenol (famous for causing chemical burns) with formaldehyde (useful for preserving dead tissue, including a dead mouse, if the cat has left you anything to work with). Think of this alarming combination next time you order an expensive bottled water.
Gallop ahead in time to 1947 and we find that Dow Chemical Company (fresh from their sterling performance in WWII and a couple of decades before they started mass producing napalm) has ‘rediscovered’ a process earlier invented by a Swedish entrepreneur. How this so-called rediscovery occurred is a mystery but apparently there was a foot-race between the Dow patent attorney in jogging gear and the nameless Swede’s solicitor wearing heels and the former triumphed and trademarked the process.
The nameless Swede’s name was Carl Georg Munters and legend has it that, if only he had discovered the missing ‘e’ in his middle name, he might have fulfilled his childhood dream of polluting the World’s oceans.
But I fear we have strayed off topic. The subject was to be American packaging and how frustrating it can be to open and, once opened, how long it can linger on the planet without bio-degrading or even whimpering.
But rest assured that American industry will continue to invent more lethal packaging and devise even more ingenious ways of wrapping it around consumer goods and sealing it so that it will withstand a close-range bazooka blast.
Our only hope is that one day, American packaging will stretch to every corner of the Globe, hermetically sealing everything from Troposphere to Crust, and thereby protecting the Planet from itself.