Plastic versus paper, again?

June 2, 2010

Greetings world!

So today I got a little sidetracked. I stumbled on the following article on greenerpackage.com:

Paper media packaging for Kodak licensee removes 98% of plastic

KMG Digital, the exclusive worldwide distributor of licensed KODAK Media Products, including CDs, DVDs, VHS, and more, has introduced Eco-Friendly optical media packaging that is said to remove more than 98% of all plastic packaging components from the consumer waste stream. KMG Digital is launching 10 new Kodak-branded Eco-Friendly packs. The packaging is made of paper and includes 100%-recyclable storage containers that do not include PP or PS plastics. To further expand on this green initiative, KMG Digital has also reduced the environmental footprint of its optical media packaging for Kodak-branded recordable CDs and DVDs by using soy-based inks for package printing.

According to Mike Golacinski, KMG Digital President and CEO, “Many competitive products are boasting about reduction of plastics while not addressing the fundamental issue, which is to eliminate plastic packaging that produces greenhouse gases and clogs our landfills. We’ve found a way to bring environmentally sustainable packaging to the category in a cost-efficient manner.”

Says Brad Yeager, director of marketing, “Paper and cardboard are the most efficient materials to recycle. Plastics are one of the least efficient due to sorting, overseas transportation, and re-melting. Many municipalities do not have the ability to recycle all the different types of plastic. Approximately 1,400 tons of polystyrene are deposited into landfills every day. KMG Digital wants to do our part to decrease waste.”

Wait a second…

“Many competitive products are boasting about reduction of plastics while not addressing the fundamental issue, which is to ELIMINATE PLASTIC PACKAGING THAT PRODUCES GREENHOUSE GASES AND CLOGS OUR LANDFILLS.”

What the douce?

Granted I am a little defensive of plastic packaging because it’s my life-blood and granted there are some problems with our industry’s current approaches to disposing of plastic packaging, this statement makes me sad; it is totally misinformed!

Because I got into a bit of trouble months ago when I ruffled some industry-folks’ tail feathers due to my aggressive response to a similarily constructed anti-plastics article (see http://www.greenerpackage.com/source_reduction/kodak_opts_paperboard_package_over_clamshell_digital_camera),  I chose to send the CEO of KMG Digital a letter, instead of calling him out in a public forum, which apparently, is no bueno.

Here’s my letter; I hope its not pretentious or annoying!

Dear Mr. Michael Golacinski,

My name is Chandler Slavin and I am the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Manufacturing, which is a national manufacturer of custom designed plastic packaging. I just read an article on greenerpackage.com that discusses KMG Digital’s 10 new Kodak-branded Eco-friendly packs, which are made primarily from paper. In this article written by Anne Marie Mohan, you are quoted saying, “Many competitive products are boasting about reduction of plastics while not addressing the fundamental issue, which is to eliminate plastic packaging that produces greenhouse gases and clogs our landfills.”

While initially I wanted to post a response to you on the greenerpackage.com website, I chose to contact you directly because I did not want to call you out in a public forum and make you uncomfortable. Additionally, as the CEO of KMG Digital, you are an important mouthpiece of the company and industry and therefore I wanted to educate you about sustainability and packaging so as to keep you from making misinformed comments in the future. That being said, shall we analyze the above statement, highlighted in bold?

First, your assumption that plastic packaging produces greenhouse gases is misplaced: Almost every product and service produces GHG equivalents during production and throughout its life cycle; however, when compared with paper production in the U.S., plastic production releases less GHG equivalents. According to the most recent Toxics Release Inventory data released by the U.S. E.P.A., pulp and paper production in 1996 generated 1,599,797,509 lbs of production-related waste i.e. Air emissions, water discharges, landfilling, etc. Please see the enclosed document titled, The Facts for more information on the GHG equivalents generated in paper production vs. plastic production.

Second, your assumption that plastic packaging “clogs our landfills” is also misinformed: According to the Container and Packaging Municipal Solid Waste data released by the U.S. E.P.A. in 2007, 52% of landfills are comprised of paper products. In addition, in the MSW report released in 2008, “paper packaging/other paper packaging” has no recovery data, which implies that paper packaging does not often get recycled, contrary to popular belief. I have included a print out of this data from the E.P.A., for your information.

Please see the enclosed documents for more information about the sustainability of paper versus plastic in the context of packaging material procurement.

Regardless of my spicy comments, I really appreciate your attempts to do good by the environmet via changing your products’ packaging. I understand that packaging plays a very vocal role in communicating the values of a brand to the consumer and that “being green” is an important value to convey. While there is a lot of confusion surrounding the sustainability of plastic packaging, I am confident that the science will catch up, the dialogues will evolve, and packaging professionals will begin making more informed packaging decisions based on sound science and not marketing claims.

Thank you for this oppurtunity to initiate a dialogue about sustainability and packaging. Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with going forward. Additionally, all of my research is available for free on our website, www.dordan.com. Check it out!

Best Wishes,

Chandler Slavin

While I am waiting for approval from my Superior to mail this letter along with some EPA data and The Facts, which makes an argument for plastic over paper in the context of sustainability (you can download The Facts at: http://www.dordan.com/sustainability_the_facts.shtml), I thought I would share it with you, my packaging and sustainability friends!

This sort of stuff drives me crazy! Being a super nerd, I dislike when anyone makes a claim that is based on assumption, rather than knowledge. Hopefully this gentleman will not be offended by this—the plastic propaganda must end, in my opinion, if we are ever going to engage in a serious and honest discussion about the environment and packaging.

Poo!

Tune in tomorrow for more exciting tid bits. And congratulations: It has been 44 days since the Gulf spill. Do you ever feel like the world is ending? Not to be mellow dramatic but seriously—we are all touting reducing emissions by some percent and here FUEL IS SPILLING INTO THE OCEAN AT AN INSANE FREQUENCY AND NO ONE WANTS TO PAY TO CLEAN IT UP. It sort of makes my job seem silly because everyone is obsessed that plastic comes from fossil fuel when obviously, said fossil fuel isn’t valuable enough to try and save…weird bears.

Tootles!

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