The photodegradation of plastic.
Plastic cannot biodegrade (be consumed by microorganisms and returned to compounds found in nature).
Rather, plastic photodegrades, which means that it fragments into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, without breaking into simpler compounds.
Oceanographer and chemist Dr. Charles Moore (credited with discovering what would come to be known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997), estimates that these millimeter sized fragments, along with the rest of our plastic waste, is dispersed over millions of square miles of ocean, stretching miles deep. (National Geographic 2009).
The image below is my 30 minute collection at the San Rafael Marina. I could spend the rest of my days plucking tiny pieces of sun-bleached plastic and dehydrated wads of styrofoam simply from this marina - it would never ever end, one continuous, sad-sack loop of me and the plastic.
Here are a few close-ups (from the collection above) of what's left of a couple of straws, a Cheetos bag, and a plastic pudding or applesauce cup, after a period of time in the elements of sun and salt water.
As I see it, the packaging industry needs to undergo a transformative rebirth, like yesterday. Day before yesterday. The brilliant and creative minds are already out there - the technology exists.
If you're at all interested, then a.) WOW, and b.) please feel free to have a look at some packaging designs (like the two above) I think are pretty great on my Pinterest board "packaging". http://www.pinterest.com/heather_itzla/packaging/