The cover of June 2018 edition of National Geographic features a picture of what at first sight looks like the tip of an iceberg visible above the sea surface, but surprisingly reveals itself as something completely different – a corner of a plastic bag almost entirely submerged in water.1 The all-caps slogan “PLANET OR PLASTIC?,” prominently positioned in the middle of the cover, signals the journal’s multi-year initiative aimed at raising awareness of the plastic pollution of the world’s oceans.
The narrative of this issue of National Geographic is not limited to the environmental impact of the plastic waste dumped, blown or washed into the sea, but also outlines the history of this relatively new, man-made material encroaching into the centre of the human existence. Among the presented statistics, two are particularly striking: 1) virtually half the plastic ever manufactured worldwide has been made in the past 15 years; and 2) roughly 40 percent of plastic produced today is intended for single use, primarily in the form of disposable packaging of foods and beverages.
Despite its ubiquity and centrality in 21st century food and eating, packaging is ‘hidden in plain sight,’ as various scholars have pointed out.2 Packaging remains pervasive and unnoticed, so long as it does not become a health hazard or environmental concern, as in the case of ocean pollution highlighted by National Geographic. “Unpacking Food and Drink” is the special theme of Worldwide Waste Journal which explores this largely uncharted territory beyond the waste dimension. We will publish research that interrogates the social, economic, political, cultural and aesthetic aspects of packaging, in its contemporary and historical dimensions. The collection opens with ‘The Tyranny of the Bottle: Vitasoy and the Cultural Politics of Packaging’ by Jia-Chen Fu (Emory University), who demonstrates the agency of packaging in new forms of cultural practices around food.