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I have heard testimonies of people with various health conditions in which the ingestion of certain botanical supplements improved their health. Then I see the plastic bottle the supplements came in, and the high price tag, and I question how sustainable the production of such supplements is. Wide, affordable access to safe, beneficial botanical supplements seems like a good goal - but can it be accomplished?

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They definitely can be sustainable.

  1. The crops themselves can easily be grown in a sustainable manner.
  2. The plastic containers can be replaced with biodegradable containers, such as those made with corn.
  3. Regarding price, that comes down to supply and demand as well as any governmental subsidies or regulation. It also depends on how much (if any) profit the suppliers/growers of the herbal supplements want to make.
    Overall, growing most herbs is incredibly inexpensive, and many even grow naturally some areas. Harvesting, cleaning (sometimes optional, depending on the soil and water source), packaging, and shipping the herbs all involve labor/expenses, but those are typically no more than most food sources. Compared to other plant products like melons, the cost of shipping herbal supplements is minuscule. Some botanical supplements are processed after they are harvested, and that can involve additional labor/machinery/expenses.
    Overall, though, for most truly herbal supplements, all these costs are no more than any other edible plant product.

What often does make herbal supplements more expensive than other edible plant products (such as fruits and vegetables) is that they are sold in much lower quantities, which is inefficient when you consider the economy of scale. There is also the big factor of huge markups by many herbal product manufacturers and distributors. Finally, many governments spend large amounts of money subsidizing fruit and vegetable farmers/producers (and sometimes lumber producers and meat suppliers), but not farmers who grow botanical crops for herbal supplements.

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  • Glass containers could also be a better option than plastic -- much easier to recycle. Some plant-based plastics require very specific conditions for composting.
    – LShaver
    Feb 5 at 14:28
  • @LShaver Yes, very true. Plus glass tends to get more commonly reused without any additional processing. I currently receive some of my herbal supplements in glass bottles, and I'll tend to save the bottles to reuse for other purposes. They work great hold things like sugar, salt, and spices in the kitchen. They also are great for storing paint and rubbing alcohol. Feb 6 at 4:25
  • @LShaver Thinking for another moment regarding plant-based containers... even if some need special conditions for composting, they could also be used as temporary planters for seedlings and succulents, and probably decompose nicely in a community trash dump / landfill. Feb 6 at 4:28

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