My #1 Costco pet peeve: package hell

Costco and I are having trouble in our relationship – packaging trouble. I’ve been a member since 1997, and the rumblings have been there from the start. At my first trip, I bought batteries and ended up going after the package with a hacksaw. (If you have a hacksaw, everything looks like a board I guess. I didn’t yet have the necessary tools to be a Costco shopper.) I have hung in there all these years, as people do when they are trying to make it work, but I finally have to speak up. The way they package the goods is no good.

I love that they make my life easier by cooking for me, and gathering up the stuff I need in gigantic amounts so I don’t waste my life going back and forth to the store to buy them. I love the book section of their little magazine, and of course, I love the food samples (Thursday at 11ish my favorite, most abundant time). But there is that one thing that is ruining our relationship.

When I first walk into the store and flash my membership card, I feel smug, like an insider. Then, as I enjoy a small-plate lunch by working my way from one sample station to the next, I feel well-fed and therefore happy. I pick up my usual items, all of good quality: organic chicken breasts (No antibiotics, No added hormones – EVER!, 99% Fat Free), a giant box of 96 granola bars, rings of Laughing Cow cheese, Greek yogurt jalapeno dip (sublime), mango salsa. Then there are the occasional purchases: the batteries, plastic dental tooth picks, tubes of mascara, face cream, mounted on large unbendable cardboard backing via indestructible plastic bubbles.

Despite the great time I have at the store, once I get home and start struggling to free the goods from their captivity I do a head slap and remember that I swore never to subject myself to this again. I start with the kitchen scissors. This fails. I go to the tool drawer in the garage for the snipper-looking gadget I bought because it bragged that no packaging could defeat it.

I breathe deeply and attempt to stay in the moment and be one with the frustration and all that other mindfulness stuff. I hack, tear, hack again, and finally sneak the product out through a small hole I managed to create. After five or ten minutes – minutes of my life that I will never get back (I’m not that good at mindfulness) – I succeed in liberating the product. I carry the shards of plastic and shredded boards to the recycling bin with a sigh.

I am an excellent recycler. My garbage guy and I bond over discussion of how some of the neighbors barely lift a finger eco-wise. So imagine my pain and confusion – on the one hand, I know that I am responsibly turning over these materials to a system that will transform them to package again. On the other, I bring home an absurdly large amount of unnecessary material that surrounded my little items in the first place. I can barely look at the store anymore without seeing ghostly images of trees that have been sacrificed for commerce.

I have questions for Costco, which I understand makes a lot of money every year, the profit coming from its membership fees. Why the need for such gigantic products – afraid we will pocket the stuff if you let it be its actual size? Or is it just clever merchandising to transform a 2” X 3” item into a poster-size panel that can be displayed at eye level (standing on its own giant cardboard supports of course) where we can’t miss it? (I think I am answering my own questions here.)

What would it cost you to cut out the giant packages? If you did, you’d bring in a few cents less, but you could rebrand yourself as an eco-friendly company, making people like me like you even more. Please think it over.

A special bonus for Costco shoppers: Have you tried the sorbets that come inside shells made out of real food – coconut shells, mango peels, pineapple boats? Amazing. Freezer aisle, between the pineapple chunks and the variety pack of 36 ice cream treats. Right past the lady passing out black bean burger samples.

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