Like many a bad scene, it all started with an apple.
I was on my way to the gym when low blood sugar struck. All I wanted was a piece of fruit. Popping into a big-box grocery store, I quickly found one, chilling in the open-air crisper, tucked into a cardboard tray, shrink-wrapped in cellophane, waxed to perfection beside three other apples. The price? Roughly $4.50. Problem was, I just wanted one. And I didn't want any of the packaging.
So I did what any socially conscious person with low blood sugar would do in such a situation: I poked my fingernail through the cellophane and plucked a single Granny Smith from the tray. I then took it up to the checkout counter and placed it on the conveyor, where it bumbled down the belt toward a teenage clerk who stared at the unpackaged apple, then at me and then back at the apple. It was as if he had just been presented with a baby's decapitated head.
"What's that?" he asked.
"An apple," I said.
"But it's…it's not…" he searched.
"I just wanted one," I explained.
He shook his head. "Can't scan it."
The clerk and I then exchanged a few more words. His included "can't help," "other customers" and "waiting." Among mine were "ludicrous," "inflexible," "rip-off" and "stinking load of corporate crap."
Getting nowhere, I finally asked the clerk to hold the line and marched back to the crisper, grabbed the (now) three-pack of remaining apples, handed them over, paid the $4.50 and - still holding up the queue - proceeded to rip off all the packaging and throw it on the floor.
I walked out of the store, angrily munching my overpriced Granny Smith. No, it wasn't my finest moment, but my outburst reflected my growing frustration with the travesty of overpackaging.
"Mmm," a wise girlfriend of mine said over tea a few days later. "Sounds like you were suffering from an acute case of wrap rage."
Of course. I have been suffering from wrap rage for years, but I just never knew what to call it. Ever since I cut my thumb trying to remove a Sony Walkman from a clamshell pack on Christmas morning in 1986, I have been a wrap-rage-aholic, begging sales clerks not to bundle things in tissue paper and shoving whole chickens straight into my purse. No need for a bag, thanks. I'm good.
Really, though, I'm not good. Nor am I alone. According to a recent Mother Jones story entitled Aboxalypse Now, 35 per cent of Americans say they seek alternatives to excessively packaged goods, while nearly half of consumers worldwide claim they would choose sustainable packaging over convenience. In spite of this, nearly one-third of Americans' waste consists of packaging and only 43 per cent is recycled. And here in Britain, where cling-filmed cucumbers are sold in plastic cartons, a recent government study revealed that almost 40 per cent of packaging found in the typical grocery cart cannot be easily recycled.
Add to this the extra price of packaging - average estimates range from 10 to 40 per cent of the total cost of food products - and wrap rage seems the only sane reaction to a needlessly shrink-wrapped society.
As a blogger for Packaging Digest, a trade publication, put it recently, "the battle against overpackaging isn't about environmental stuff. This is about keeping people from going totally insane."
If I could, I would limit all of my shopping to the goods on offer at Unpackaged, an innovative London retailer that is taking the problem of excess baggage seriously.
The brainchild of owner and environmentalist Catherine Conway, the shop is located in a converted dairy and operates a lot like an old-fashioned general store.
Not only is everything on offer organic and/or local, it's also free of excess packaging. While you can buy your first Kentish bramble jam in a jar, you are strongly encouraged after that to bring the jar back and fill it directly from the oft-replenished vat. Same goes for organic yogurt, chutney, rolled oats, lentils, beans, nuts, olive oil, wine vinegar, eco-friendly dishwasher detergent, hand cream and shampoo. In essence, the stop has everything you need and nothing that, with a little forethought, you don't.
It's also much cheaper than your average trendy locavore hot spot since there's no fancy containers to pay for.
During a recent visit, the shop was full with people on their way home from work in bicycle gear, scooping cereal and nuts into reused Ziploc bags they had pulled from their pockets.
A smiley hippie girl behind the counter informed me that Unpackaged will provide bags to first-time customers who purchase £10 worth of goods or more. "We don't want to be mean about it," she said. But, she added, staff will also try to gently explain the retailer's mission, which essentially boils down to the old truism of less being more.
I bought a single green apple and went happily munching on my way.