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Reader gripe: Couponers court eco disaster - Jill Cataldo

Sometimes, complaints land in my inbox. Last week, I answered a note from a reader about couponing and processed foods. Here's a letter from a reader who wonders about the environmental impact of coupon shopping.

Q: "Saving money isn't the only consideration in making choices. What about all the energy that goes into making those plastic, glass and metal containers products are packaged in? Excess packaging is just one of the many things to think about when buying a product. Frugality is a good value, but so is making conservative use of our Earth's natural resources, so there will be some left long after we're gone."

A: It dismays me that some people blame coupon shoppers for excess packaging so often seen on products at the grocery store. This is not the first time I've heard this argument, either.

I'm no fan of packaging overload. My household recycles as much as possible. But packaging is a reality of our modern world. It's difficult to buy a gallon of milk if it doesn't come in a carton or a jug. And it would nearly be impossible -- not to mention messy -- to bring home a jar of pasta sauce without the jar!

Unless you grow all of your household's food in a very large garden and then can and store all the produce for use during the winter months, at some point, you need to purchase products at a store. And the products you purchase will be covered in cardboard, plastic, glass or metal packaging. Products are packaged in various ways, for various reasons: to protect the nutritional content of a product, to maintain product integrity and even, unfortunately, to deter theft. I've often noted that the large, clear bubble clamshell around a razor is many times larger than the razor itself. Wasteful packaging? Possibly. But in the real world, the packaging also deters theft.

Not long ago, a couple made news in my area when they were arrested for trying to shoplift razors from a supermarket. They had emptied a box of cereal, removed $510 worth of razors from large, plastic packages and then put the razors in the cereal box. They tried to purchase the overloaded box of "cereal" in the self-checkout lane. The checkout register's scale notified the store's staff that the weight of the item being scanned was much heavier than a normal box of cereal. The pair was arrested.

Razors are typically packaged in a large plastic bubble because they are expensive and the bulky package deters theft. Sometimes, the plastic bubble also may contain a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip to trigger an anti-theft alert if the product is taken out of the store before being disabled.

Incidentally, had the razor shoplifters been good coupon shoppers, they could have had just about as many razors as they wanted, free of charge. Those "expensive" razors frequently are free with coupons during good sales!

Here's an eco issue all good coupon shoppers face. Do we invest in a reusable razor and buy replacement blades (which come in a cardboard package but are rarely on sale) or do we rely on the throwaway razors we generally can receive for free (in giant plastic packages) using coupons? I can't, in good conscience, purchase razor blades when I can get razors for free on a regular basis. Buying more razors in "big plastic bubbles" may not be the environmental thing to do, but with coupons, it is the economical thing to do. And, as this is a coupon savings column, it's no secret on which side of that issue I sit.

While I'm always mindful of not wanting to deplete the earth's resources, I also can't in good conscience waste my household's financial resources, either. As with all things, you must decide for yourself which choice makes more sense.

Next week, we'll hear from another reader who asks a "quality versus price" question regarding meats.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.supercouponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.