“Passive” materials switch–changing traditional packaging materials with environmentally-friendly ones
“Active” materials switch–changing traditional packaging materials with those that require a change in consumer behavior (like reusable packaging)
Packaging and product design changes–changing the packaging to require fewer materials or fewer steps
Supply chain process redesign–to reduce packaging needs
In the realm of the “passive” materials switch, an article about Dell’s switch to sustainable packaging catches the eye. It discusses the use of bamboo, a high-tensile strength grass that is rapidly renewable. It promotes healthy soil, grows 24 inches a day, and proper harvesting means that it doesn’t require replanting. Plus, the treatment of bamboo doesn’t involve the dumping of toxic chemicals, and it can be dried in the sun.
The same site giving us information on Dell’s packaging also gives us news about an “active” materials switch. The Notbox Company, which has been serving the European community for several years, will be bringing its reusable packaging products to the United States. According to Notbox, their reusable packages can make 20 or more trips, which is well more than the single-use-then-discard nature of regular cardboard boxes.
Businesses use pallets to provide a sturdy surface to stack and ship goods. The vast majority of these pallets, or skids, are wooden and are usually stacked up behind retail stores, warehouses or factories. The pallet industry uses a significant amount of U.S. hardwood resources. Beyond the obvious issue that they use up so much of a valuable natural resource, wood pallets present other difficulties. Oak is the primary hardwood used for pallets. Oak is heavy and pests sometimes travel with the wood. Wood is flammable, so fires may start or grow larger where they are stored.
For a few years now, there are manufacturers who produce plastic pallets from 100% post-consumer waste plastic. Although these plastic pallets are about double the cost, they also last between 5-10 times as long and can be recycled again after their useful life. Other benefits include resistance to pests and being lighter in weight.
Method, a company that manufacturers green cleaning products, is going to launch a new plastic bottle that actually uses plastic waste located in our oceans. They worked with Envision Plastics to figure out how to collect, reuse and manufacture a bottle using 25% of the plastic from the ocean waste. This is a great example of a company applying innovative solutions to our global problems. Learn more about their sustainable journey from the founder’s blog entry, The Next Generation.
To learn more about the garbage patch issue, visit Greenpeace.
There has been a lot written about plastic lately. Not only is it harmful to the environment but overwhelming studies are finding plastic harmful to your health. Consider these facts;
Plastics production produces 14 percent of toxic air emissions in the U.S., and each plant emits an average of 300-500 gallons of contaminated wastewater per minute. (It’s Easy Being Green book)
100 million plastic bottles dumped in US every year. Each bottle will take over 1,000 years to biodegrade. (SIGG)
BPA (a plastic hardening agent prevalent in bottles, cups and lined tin cans) is so prevalent in food packaging and other consumer items that prior research has detected its presence in at least 90% of Americans. A group of 20 San Francisco residents had 66% less BPA in their urine after three days on a diet of fresh, organic and unpackaged food, scientists found. (Silent Spring Institute)
500 billion plastic bags or wraps are thrown away in America each year and are created with 12 million barrels of oil. (DropthePlasticBag.org)
Find out the facts about plastic for yourself with these resources;
Plastic Disclosure is a great website that offers facts and information about the harmful effects of plastic.
GreenBiz released this article a few weeks ago about the plastic use in corporations.
New York Times released this article on the issue of plastic and waste
If you want a more lighthearted approach, view the movie Bag It, that was released early in 2011. It discusses all the issues with plastic. For a review, go to this blog entry.
Imagine a grocery store with no packaged goods– no jars, no cans, no plastic packaging—just food. Well a new store opened in London that is just that, a store with no packaged goods called Unpackaged. Customers bring in their own reusable containers and have them weighed before shopping. Then, consumers fill up their containers with the products they need in only the amounts they desire. No more packaging to throw away, less food waste and no need to worry about the plastic BPA issue in your food.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, packaging waste contributes to about a 1/3 of our waste in our U.S. landfills. They also show that over 10.4 million tons of plastic packaging is thrown away annually by Americans. With 95% of the ecological damage of packaging is from the energy used and the toxins created in the package manufacturing and delivery process. If packaging waste could be reduced, it would be a considerable impact on our waste stream, energy use and toxins in our environment.
Today, there are many more sustainable packaging options than there used to be. Now there are various eco-packaging products that can be as price competitive and durable as plastic and Styrofoam.
Here are a few companies to check out if you are looking for some green packaging options for your company:
Be Green Packaging, based in Santa Barbara, is the one Whole Foods switched to a year ago. The packaging is made from bio-materials and are compostable. Be Green also has Cradle to Cradle certification for their manufacturing processes.
BioCorp also provides biodegradeable bioware including plates, trays, bowls, cups, lunch boxes and compartment trays. They also have cutlery that is heat resistant.
Eco-Products, based in Boulder, Colorado also supplies foodservice compostable packaging.
EPI makes packaging products out of an oxo biodegradable plastic additive technology.
Green Packaging Group is a one stop shopping source for eco packaging. It showcases various vendors and resources for all types of packaging.
An interesting lawsuit has been announced between The Plastics Industry and Chico bags, a reuseable bag company based in California. In Green America’s announcement of this in Stand Up Against Big Plastic.
An interesting lawsuit has been announced between The Plastics Industry and Chico bags, a reuseable bag company based in California. According to Green America’s article Stand Up Against Big Plastic., the lawsuit is about ChicoBag’s claims that its products are superior to plastic bags with regard to environmental impact. There has been some debate around this topic of what is more environmentally friendly when you take into the account the entire lifecycle and manufacturing process of bags.
According to a academic paper on the plastic bag footprint, Plastic Grocery Bags: An Ecological Footprint, with extraction of the petroleum, the use of toxic chemicals and emissions during the manufacturing process and in particular the disposal and environmental issues around making the plastic bag adds up to some harmful impacts.
On the other side, some research has said that a cloth bag needs to be used 173 times to compare to a plastic bag environmental footprint. This is based on these reusable bags are made in China and use a higher amount of water and fertilizer in their production, along with the transportation footprint.
A report commissioned by the Environmental Agency of the UK was released in March 2011 called Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags, came to the conclusion that all multi-use bags- whether plastic, cotton or paper—need to be reused multiple times to reduce the environmental footprint. They also found that the biggest environmental footprint is resource use and manufacturing over the end of life impact.
As many environmentalists note the best case scenario is always to reduce and reuse as much as possible. The less we use disposable bags and the more we reuse the bags we have the better it is for the environment.
Recently at the Boulder Film Festival the movie, Bag It! was presented. A very entertaining, funny and delightful film about how plastic affects our life. Featuring Jeb based in Telluride, a normal guy, just trying to find out the answers about plastic and how it affects our environment, community, oceans and health. It provides excellent statistics and information about how plastic gets consumed in our daily life. You can purchase the DVD online or go to their ‘Showings’ page to see when it will be coming to your area.
They also have a ‘Take Action’ page of specific actions you can take to eliminate plastic from your life.
Plastic bags are just a mess for the environment. Worldwide there are now 500 billion plastic bags used annually. If you haven’t seen the big plastic patch in the ocean, then watch this video from Good Morning America. Unfortunately, these bags are petroleum based and don’t seem to break down in our landfills or water causing major toxins and pollution issues. Cities like San Francisco have banned plastic bags and other cities like Boston and Portland are considering it. Be in the forefront and refrain from using plastic bags in your business. Here are some options;
Bring Your Own: Ask your customers to bring their own bags. Better yet, create a promotional re-useable bag and sell it. Companies like Chico Bag are nice convenient to carry.
Offer Compostable Bags: Consider purchasing and using compostable bags. Roplast Industries and BioBags both make good compostable plastic-type bags.
Offer Recycling: In the interim, offer recycling containers and disposal for the plastic bags. They need to be clean and dry and usually #2 or #4 plastic which most of the regular plastic shopping bags are made from. There is an organization called Plastic Bag Recycling that provides a system and container to help businesses recycle plastic bags.