Hey yall!

Guess what?!?! Tomorrow is my 24th b-day, big girl!

In preparation of becoming another year wiser, I thought I would share with you some fun paper vs. plastic facts. The information accessible via the PPT below is taken from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Common Packaging Material Technical Briefs, available here for download.

Paper vs. Plastic PPT for blog

And be sure to “play” the Power Point to see all the snazzy fly-in animation! Neat!

Paper vs. plastic

February 4, 2011

Happy Friday!

Today’s post is going to be a lot. And it’s about one of my most favorite concepts: plastic vs. paper dun dun dunnnn.

This whole paper plastic thing started last week, when someone from one of my Linkedin groups reached out to me with some questions about sustainable packaging. He is a package designer for an outdoors company and wanted to know what I thought of the “sustainability” of 100% recycled paper packaging vs. that of FSC-certified fiber. While on the phone he explained that his company started on the journey towards sustainable packaging two years ago and have almost entirely eliminated plastic from their product line. When I asked why he said because the process of manufacturing resin for plastic packaging releases a lot of pollutants in the air, consumes a lot of energy, and so forth. I began telling him how contrary to popular belief, the pulp and paper industry is the largest industrial consumer of water in America (though I am currently investigating this assumption conveyed via US EPA’s TRI Report) AND how in the process of converting pulp to paper, a lot of energy is needed and a lot of things are omitted into the surrounding ecosystems. Please understand, of course, that these assumptions are contingent on the available public data that the Pulp and Paper sector is required to report to the US EPA; therefore, it is not necessarily a wholistic representation of the entire industry, just the average, I believe, but again I am further investigating this. Because I wanted to support these claims, I sent him an array of emails, which attempts to illustrate how I understand “sustainability” as it pertains to packaging materials from a research-based analysis. Check em out!

Email 1

Hey!

The point of this email is to provide you with some research on paper vs. plastic in the context of sustainability. Hurray!

The first attached document, titled (title has been removed for consideration of publisher) is provided via an NGO organization that Dordan is a member of.

This document discusses, in great detail, all the environmental inputs and outputs of manufacturing resin for packaging applications. Nine resin profiles are discussed and it is interesting to note that each resin has an extremely unique environmental profile, depending on its chemical composition and synthesis process. If you are interested in the life cycle impacts of plastic for packaging in the context of sustainability, I urge you to read this.

This information can be found via the Franklin Associates LCI study titled, “Cradle-to-Gate Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) of Nine Plastics Resins and Four Polyurethane Precursors.” Download it here.

Next, the document titled (title has been removed for consideration for publisher) is the same type of document about fiber-based packaging materials. Like the plastic environmental briefs, it provides a holistic representation of the entire life cycle of manufacturing packaging from pulp in the context of sustainability. Again, I urge you to read it—and I guarantee you will be surprised! I will provide you with a list of organizations who provided the data for the report in the very near future so you can get your hands on some hard numbers.

AND, if you want to skip all the technicalities and just get an overview of the classic paper vs. plastic debate, follow the link below and down load The Facts about fossil fuel consumption and green house gas emissions. Please note that this research does not discuss end of life management, which is an important component to the overall “sustainability” of a packaging material. AND, I wrote this almost two years ago, so the info may need a refresher– I will put that on my list of things to do.

http://www.dordan.com/sustainability_the_facts.shtml

The Facts documents draw all of their data from the attached technical briefs, which reference the Department of Energy, the US EPA, and others. For the full citation for each graft/data point, consult the footnotes below the text.

The last attached document is a <a href="<a href="plasticvspaper“>”>brochure advertising the Freedonia Group’s most recently published market research report comparing the projected markets of paper vs. plastic for 2014 and 2019. This is just a tiny bit of information that I believe illustrates how plastic will always be a viable packaging material for its versatility and lightweight nature.

I still have more! Get excited!

You can buy the reports here

Email 2:

Hello again!

Ok the purpose of this email is to try and illustrate in real time what the environmental technical briefs convey in regard to the sustainability of paper vs. plastic.

Again, COMPASS is the SPC’s life cycle based environmental packaging modeling software that allows users to quantify the environmental impacts of different packaging materials in the design phase. For more information on COMPASS visit https://www.design-compass.org/about.gsp.

I performed four COMPASS case studies that I believe speaks to my point that plastic is a strong packaging material choice in the context of packaging material sustainability. As this information shows, and I would argue is the underlying framework for understanding any discussion on “sustainability”, is that there is no “silver bullet” and each material has its advantages and drawbacks in the context of its impact on the environment throughout its life cycle.

The first attached document titled “<a href="25 grams 100% Recycled Folding Boxboard vs. 25 grams PET“>25 grams 100% Recycled Folding Boxboard vs. 25 grams PET” is the data output from the first COMPASS case study. Basically I entered in the same packaging weight for the paper and plastic (25 grams), chose the correct converting process i.e. thermoforming or carton making, selected the desired material (I chose PET as an example; each plastic is different), and tada! What the bar graphs illustrate is the assumed life cycle impacts of this amount of specific material type. The three phases considered in this LCA, which are indicated via a “tick” through the bar graph are: manufacture, conversion, and end of life. Because we are speaking conceptually, I didn’t feel the need to input information in regard to the distribution of the packaging material from the point of production through fulfillment.

I chose 100% Recycled Folding Boxboard because I thought it would be a good representation of your current packaging material’s impacts.

The second attached document titled “<a href="96 grams 100% Recycled Folding Boxboard vs. 36 grams PET“>96 grams 100% Recycled Folding Boxboard vs. 36 grams PET” is the data output from the second COMPASS case study. Basically what I tried to do was present a more “real life” situation because plastic weighs less than paper generally speaking. For instance, it takes less plastic to package the same product when compared with a paper medium and therefore the impacts throughout the package’s life cycle are dramatically different due to this weight differentiation. The reason I used the weights I did (96 grams paper vs. 36 grams PET) is because I had performed a similar COMPASS case study previously where I actually had two packages for the same product in paper and plastic, which allowed me to weigh them in real time and input into the COMPASS software. Therefore, I used the same weight distribution for your COMPASS case study in order to present the real life cycle impacts of a product packaged in paper vs. plastic.

If you are interested in further validating this approach, visit the link below that will take you to our third-party verified listing in greenerpackage.com’s database for sustainable materials/suppliers.
http://www.greenerpackage.com/database/converted_packages/dordan_manufacturing_inc/cs-002_clamshell_package

Have I completely confused you?

I have several more emails for you…

Email 3:

Hey,

In my opinion, the end of life management of packaging materials is crucial to its overall “sustainability.” Because most packaging is intended for single use, it is important to find a way to recover these materials to remanufacture into second generation products or packaging.

There is a lot of confusion over recycling. I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out why some packaging materials, like PET bottles, are recycled, while others, like PET thermoforms, generally are not. This is how I believe you found me—I have been getting some good industry exposure due to my work on recycling clamshells, which is why I have been invited to speak at Sustainability in Packaging. Anyway, attached is my recycling report, which outlines the economics dictating recycling in America. I hope you will understand if for an analogy to recycling packaging materials in general, as even within the paper recovery stream, TONS of packaging is land filled each year.

And, to shatter more myths about paper vs. plastic, check out the attached information from the US EPA titled “<a href="msw2008data“>msw2008data.” This represents what type of materials and how much was recycled in America in 2008. If you scroll to page 22 (Table 20), you will see what types of paper and plastic products were recovered from the MSW stream. In the paper category, for the sections titled “Other Paperboard Packaging”/”Other Paper Packaging,” there is no recovery data (neg.), which means that this types of packaging materials are not recycled. Crazy, right?!? Feel free to peruse the document to get a better handle on the realities of recycling in America.

Let’s chat soon after you have had a chance to digest all this information. I will try you sometime next week in the office.

Hello and happy new month! I have to say, I think July is my second favorite month after June, which I have an affinity for because it is the month I was born!

I know I have been slacking on my daily posts—I apologize. I have a lot of catching up to do after the Holiday and I am up to my ears in information about composters. I will have a really good blog post for you about composting soon; think of it as business composting 101, per se, but I have not finished my research quite yet so I don’t want to jump the gun…

Speaking of guns, I got to fire my first “riffle” this past weekend; granted I fired it at a target that I apparently did not even come close to, it was still fun, although the “kick back” was almost enough to kill me. So that’s how I spent my Holiday—in a farm in the middle of nowhere, driving tractors and shooting guns. Well, only one gun.

Okay wow really off target, Chandler (no pun intended). I am beginning to have way too much fun with this blog.

Let’s recap: Work on recycling PET thermoforms is moving at the pace that the Committee I am co-leading is moving; that is, slowly. If it helps put the pace of work in perspective, I sent out my notes from the last Committee meeting to my co-lead who forwarded them to legal four weeks ago; we still have not heard back from legal…

I will readdress these issues in a week or two; in the meantime, I am focusing on Dordan’s action plan for its goal of achieving zero-waste. In doing so I am now completely restructuring our website to house these new sustainability efforts. Once I get the website changes finalized and reach out to different publishers who may be interested in covering our sustainability story, I will aggressively design our action plan; I assume this will be way more difficult than I am anticipating as we have several hard-to-place materials, like the corrugated tubs inside the rolls of plastic we buy…

Also, for all those creative folk out there, we are brainstorming on a brand for our new sustainability efforts. As discussed in a previous post, most of my work on sustainability thus far has been from a macro- level. What I mean by this is I was focusing on the sustainability of different packaging materials in general, waste management of packaging materials in general, plastics’ reputation in general, etc. (think my rebuttal to The NYT’s The Haggler: http://plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=17268&q=chandler+slavin). Now that we are actively pursuing our own intitaives, we need to brand said efforts. A lot of companies out there have their own “green team” or what not, which overseas all the sustainability works. We need some kind of green team, too. Well, we don’t need the team; we just need the brand. Get it? Again, our new sustainability initiatives are social and environmental: social insofar as I will be doing grassroots education about recycling with schools and we will be donating the food from our Victory Garden to local charities and events; and environmental insofar as we are working towards zero-waste and trying to recycle thermoforms. If anyone comes up with a brilliant idea you will win a fabulous prize, like oh I don’t know…research about recycling! Fun fun!

OKKKKKKK and for the meat of today’s post: I am happy to report that the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, in partner with Metaphore, just created an awesome new website, which discusses the life cycle of paper. Check it out: http://www.thepaperlifecycle.org/.

I really like this website because it is pretty and brings to light a lot of issues about sourcing paper that people don’t often recognize such as deforestation, exports, illegal logging, etc. Again, kudos to all those involved!

Also, I was really tickled pink with today’s Chicago Tribune article titled, “Green Choices.” Unlike most coverage of “sustainability,” author Monica Eng did a splendid job highlighting the pros and cons of different materials and situations. No reductionstic stances here! Check it out: http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-eco-questions-20100706,0,3618266.story.

I gotta find this Monica…I am a big fan!

That’s all for today my wonderful packaging and sustainability friends. Again, I apologize for the “light” content of today’s and the previous days’ post. I promise I will bring the bull back; in the meantime, go packaging!

Tootles!

GO BLACK HAWKSSSSSS

June 14, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!!!

I have returned from my travels. GO BLACK HAWKSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!

While I will fill you in on what I learned in tomorrow’s post (busy day!), I thought I would include a response to my greenerpackage.com post. Check it out (notice the “anonymous”…)

June 9, 2010, Anonymous (not verified) wrote:

Chandler – One point that can’t be argued. Packaging from trees is a sustainable option. Packaging from oil (like plastic films) is not – once its pumped out and converted into film products, there will be no more. It would be ideal to compare apples to apples and determine which causes less harm to the planet, however, the opportunity to replant trees and convert paper back into usable pulp is an obvious advantage. And the article makes a solid point that regardless of what might be possible for recycling films, consumers or municipalities rarely have the facilities for taking advantages of the possiblities of recycled film products.

June 11, 2010, Chandler Slavin wrote:

Thank you for your comments and I understand your perspective; however, I am a little confused by this statement: “Packaging from oil (like plastic films) is not [sustainable] – once it’s pumped out and converted into film products, there will be no more.” Are you simply making the argument that paper is sustainable because it comes from a renewable resource while plastic is not because it comes from fossil fuel, which is ever depleting, as dramatically illustrated by the tragic Gluf Coast Spill? If so, that argument is acceptable, but very one dimensional, in my opinion. The reason I feel that this argument is sub par is because it only highlights the different feedstocks used in the production of fiber-based packaging materials or fossil-fuel ones; what about the energy required to convert this feestock into its end-product, that is, paper or plastic? What about the resources consumed in this converstion process; the GHG equivalents emitted therefrom, the inks, laminates, or chemicals added, etc.? I guess the whole point of my post was that to view “sustainability” from one metric, be it renewable versus unrenewable feedstock, is unacceptable in trying to quantify the overall burden a specific packaging material has on the environment.

As an aside, the point about the complexities of recycling plastic packaging is appropriate; with the exception of PET bottles, the rates of recycling plastic packaging in the States is very low. However, Japan, the UK, Belguim, Germany, and many others have very high diversion rates for plastic packaging post-consumer, usually with the aid of waste-to-energy technologies. Because we live in a global market, I am sure that the products of a large CPG company, like Kodak, end up on many international shelves; therefore, the probability that the packaging will or will not end up in a landfill is constituent on the region in which it is distributed. Consequentially, it is difficult to speculate on how much packaging material a company diverts from the landfill by switching from one material to another without specifying what geographical region said packaging material resides in.

In addition, there is a lot of interest in diverting PET thermoforms from the waste stream, as there is an every growing demand for this recyclate. Many companies are now investing in the sorting and cleaning technologies necessary to reprocess these packages with PET bottles to remanufacture into new packages or products. Hence, it is only a matter of time until plastic packaging begings to be recovered post-consumer because of the inherent value of the recyclate.

Thank you for your comments; it is always good to move the dialogue forward!

Mahahahahahahhahaha. See you tomorrow!

Hey!

So in yesterday’s post I talked about an article I read on greenerpackage.com that dissapointed me due to its unfounded anti-plastic stance. I  included a letter that I had intended on sending to the disseminator of said anti-plastic stance because I didnt want to call him out in the public forum that is greenerpackage.com; however, our CEO wanted me to post a rebuttal to his comments on greenerpackage.com, so this reductionistic stance on plastic can begin to be confronted.

Here we go:

Comments: 1

0 minutes ago, Chandler Slavin wrote:

After reading the above article titled “Paper media packaging for Kodak licensee removes 98% of plastic,” I believe that KMG Digital’s Mike Golacinski may be misinformed. Speaking on behalf of a plastic thermoformer, we are disappointed when we stumble across the proclamation of misinformed or unsubstantiated environmental claims about plastic packaging. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to analyze these anti-plastic environmental claims with hopes of facilitating an honest dialogue about packaging materials and sustainability. Only when we understand the reality of the situation will we begin to make more informed packaging material procurement selections that are based on science, and not ambiguous claims.

Consider the following statement: “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…”

First of all, the assumption that plastic packaging produces greenhouse gases is misplaced. Almost every product and service produces GHG equivalents during production and throughout the life cycle. Let’s clarify what “greenhouse gases” mean:

According to the 2009 report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the largest factor contributing to global warming is increased greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, halocarbons, and soot. Therefore, when making claims of GHG emissions, it is helpful to indicate which chemical you are referring to, as each packaging material procurement and conversion process releases different GHG equivalents, based on the methods used.

In addition, not only should GHG equivalents generated be consideration when procuring packaging materials, but other metrics, like water discharges, air pollutants, and OSHA carcinogens should be taken into account.

While I have not been able to find the necessary data to do an apples-to-apples comparison between the GHG equivalents emitted during the production of 1,000 lbs of fiber-based packaging materials versus those emitted during the production of 1,000 lbs of a common packaging polymer, the most recent Toxics Release Inventory data released by the U.S. E.P.A. explains the following:

…Pulping processes are the pulp and paper sector’s primary source of air emissions and water discharges of pollutants. Chemical pulping (to digest a material, typically wood, into its fibrous cellulose constituents) is the most widely used pulping method (85% in 1991). Kraft chemical pulping, an alkaline process whose active components are primarily sodium sulfide and sodium hydroxide, is the sector’s greatest source of air pollutants.

…For many paper grades, bleaching follows pulping. Traditional chlorine bleaching generates chlorinated byproducts—chloroform, dioxins, furans—that pose particular environmental concerns for their persistence, bioaccumulatability, and toxicity.

…Methanol or “wood alcohol,” is the chemical with the largest TRI releases (principally air emissions) from this sector. Methanol is formed in the chemical pulping process as wood chips are “cooked” to dissolve the lignin bonds that hold cellulose fibers together…Methanol in air reacts to form formaldehyde, contributing to air pollution…119.8 million pounds of methanol were released from the pulp and paper sector in 1996.

…Coated and laminated paper products are also associated with significant reporting of releases and other waste management of TRI chemicals…Pollutants associated with various coating materials and processes have included emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and discharges of wastewater containing solvents, colorants, and other contaminants.

…Pulp and paper releases…of chemicals designated as OSHA carcinogens totaled
18.9 million pounds in 1996. The large majority (17.7 million pounds) was released to air. Three of the top 15 chemicals for on- and off-site releases in the pulp and paper sector are OSHA carcinogens: chloroform, acetaldehyde, and formaldehyde. These three chemicals accounted for 16.4 million pounds of the 18.9 million pounds of OSHA. The OSHA carcinogens with the next highest on- and off-site releases were dichloromethane (746,000 pounds) and asbestos (571,000 pounds).

…[In summary,] The pulp and paper sector reported a total of 1.60 billion pounds of TRI chemicals in production-related waste for 1996

Please visit: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri96/pdr/chapt5_ry96.pdf to download the most recent TRI report for the paper and pulp industries.

Second, the 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 (“Neg.”), which implies that paper packaging does not often get recycled, contrary to popular belief. Please visit: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf. On page 5 of this document you will find a break-down of the different paper products that are recycling in America: as this table illustrates, the high recovery rates for paper are attributed primarily to newspapers (87.6% recovery) and corrugated boxes (76.6%).

I apologize if the tone of this post is a bit aggressive; I am not trying to make anyone uncomfortable I just wanted to take advantage of this public knowledge exchange medium with hopes of elevating the dialogue around issues pertaining to packaging materials and sustainability. 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.

In a nut shell: The anti-plastic mentality conveyed in the statements made by representatives of KMG Digital is unfounded in the scientific community and to use it to promote paper over plastics is not good for any company involved in packaging from an economic, social, political, and environmental perspective.

So yeah…that’s that. Questions, commments, concerns?

AND I am about half-way finished with my report on PET recycling for Walmart Canada–it is about 6 pages; my brain is about to explode!

See you tomorrow!

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!

Happy Monday Funday! I hope the weather is as beautiful for you as it is for me—sunny and 70, what more can a girl ask for?

 SO where were we…that’s right, recapping the SPC spring meeting.

Oh, before I forget, there was one more thing I wanted to tell you about the Walmart Expo.

Prior to the Expo, in preparation for the Walmart SVN meeting (Sustainable Value Network), we were asked to do a little homework: this entailed going to a local Walmart and finding a package that needed a “sustainability makeover.” We were supposed to fill out a “packaging opportunities template,” which basically inquired into how one would redesign the package to increase its environmental profile while saving costs. This is what our team came up with:

PackagingOpportunitiesTemplate, FINAL

We decided to pick on a thermoformed package because we are thermoformers, although this one looks as though it was manufactured overseas, due to the perimeter sealing. Therefore, it’s not like we would be able to steal the business…I wonder what the sustainability profile is of an overseas manufacturer versus a domestic supplier…Ha!

Anywhoozy, it turns out that during the SVN meeting several of these “packaging opportunities” were to be presented to the entire conference—and guess what—I was one of the lucky four selected to present.

Basically I suggested that the package be right-sized and thermoformed out of RPET instead of PVC. The panel then inquired into how I would convey the same marketing presence with a reduced package AND prevent against pilferage. I was stumped. Perhaps include a recyclable paperboard backing, I offered? That totally stunk, however, because it suggested that paperboard is more “sustainable” than plastic, which I would not argue having performed extensive research on the topic. AND, according to the recent E.P.A. reports, the paperboard used in clamshell alternatives (labeled “other paperboard packaging” in the MSW report) HAS NO RECOVERY DATA—literally it is listed as neg., which means negligent. I wish I had known this during my presentation as it would have served our industry well. Rats!

Visit http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008data.pdf to see the break down of what is recycled and what is not in the paper world.

I guess my obsession with the recycle-ability of paperboard versus thermoforms can be summed up as follows:

I am at the Walmart Expo, working the booth. A prospect comes by, with whom I have had casual conversation in the past. Having seen his product at a competitor’s booth, I hassle him saying, “I saw your thermoformed trays at our competitor’s booth…and here you have been blowing me off all year…not very nice!” And he responds with, “we are getting out of thermoformed trays because they are not recycled.”

UG! What do you say to that? Prior to knowing that paperboard, which would be the alternative used for his packaging application, has no data for recovery post-consumer according to the E.P.A., I assumed that it was the more sustainable material because of its end-of-life recovery. But now that I know that in most cases, both thermoformed trays AND paperboard trays end up in landfills, I should have articulated a better argument for why thermoformed trays are still a wonderful packaging option.

It’s like when you have some kind of social confrontation and find yourself tongue-tied only to later come up with the best “come-back” ever! That’s what this was like; I needed a good come back, both for the “packaging opportunities” presentation and the fellow who thinks paperboard is better due to its end of life recovery. Next time…

A couple other points about the Walmart Expo:

As discussed in a previous post, the Walmart Scorecard has a “transport module,” which takes into account the inputs/outputs of shipping a package from the point of conversion/manufacture to the point of fulfillment. Supposedly the filled packages’ journey to the point of purchase is covered in another metric…

Anyway, I asked if the scorecard takes into account/intends to take into account the environmental ramifications of overseas manufacturers versus domestic manufactures. After all, long before my appointment at Dordan, we lost business to China because of the super duper low prices of labor and therefore commodities. And considering all this sustainability jazz, one would think that sourcing domestically would have some kind of impact on ones Score (think shipping, environmental regulations, labor regulations, etc. in China versus the States)…unfortunately, that is not the case. According to a member of the SVN, Walmart considered having a “point of origin” metric but determined that it was unquantifiable and would not resonate with their suppliers. Go figure!

A SVN member then articulated the following inquiry, which tickled me pink: Is the Scorecard going to take into account the inks, laminates, and sealants used on paperboard packaging? The member who voiced this inquiry qualified this question with some data, specifically, that even the tiny amounts of hazardous material in these various substances can have a high toxicity on the social and environmental environments.

This inquiry was answered as follows: Again, they considered adding this metric into the Scorecard but did not because they didn’t believe that these factors had a large enough effect on the overall “environmental profile” of a package. Supposedly, if we prove otherwise, they will consider adding this metric into the scorecard…

Lastly, Walmart is rolling out their Scorecard to other countries. I asked if each Scorecard used different recovery rates depending on the country it was being utilized for. In other words, Canada has a better recovery rate for most packaging materials that the U.S.; therefore, is their Scorecard going to use Canadian recovery data or American? According to the SVN, each Scorecard will be country specific, using recovery data from the country considered.

Wow, another marathon of an email. I’m sorry to keep rambling, I just have so many thoughts! I will continue tomorrow with the SPC recap and quickly move into resuming my clamshell recycling initiative.

Go packaging!

Day 3: Oct 13, 2009

January 25, 2010

One of my professors from undergrad, Dr. Scott Paeth, continues to be a sounding board for my inquiries about ethics, even several months into my post-grad life. As my academic advisor and my Senior Thesis mentor, I had the opportunity of developing a relationship with him that expanded beyond the parameters of the classroom; I still consider him a great friend and mentor.

Two months into my new job as the Sustainability Coordinator at Dordan Mfg., I was struggling with the “ethics of sustainability.” I shot Dr. Paeth the following email, looking for any direction to point my ethical compass towards:

Hey! 
 
How is the school year going? Good stuff? 
 
Okay, so consider the following: 
 
I went to a contract packaging facility on Friday, which basically assembles the different components of the package i.e. paper card, plastic clamshell, sticker, product, etc. They don’t make anything, they just put it together. This facility is the home of the Chia pet. Ironically, the Obama Chia is made in
China, imported to the US, packaged in the US, and then distributed in the US. Similar products are made in China, packaged in China, and then distributed in the US. How can companies market themselves as green, while the product and often tines package is made in China under lax environmental regulations and poor working conditions? 

In a nut shell: I am trying to figure out how to market ourselves as an ethical company, both environmentally and socially, but am having a difficult time because marketing in general seems disingenuous…why do consumers care about being green when they don’t even consider the people that are making the product and the conditions they are working in? 
 
Sorry to ramble– I am just so frustrated. I keep trying to sell our product to people who get their packaging from overseas. Yet they market themselves as green. I can’t tell if the green washing acts as a distraction from the reality– that the only thing that matters is money– even at the expense of people’s lives. 
 
If you have any insight, or books, or information pertaining to the ethics of advertising or environmental advertising or overseas manufacturing or anything that you think might provide some clarity to this cluster of craziness, I would be very happy. 
 
Oh, the real world is hard! 
 
I look forward to hearing from you! 
 
Best, 
 
Chandler 
 
I met up with Dr. Paeth the following week, who gave me a bunch of books on business ethics and the “corporate soul.” To be honest, however, this was the first time that I realized that his extensive knowledge didn’t apply to my new job: he was not able to provide me with the data I was requesting nor was he able to explain why certain information, even information about consumer products’ and their packages, could be classified as proprietary. I believe that this initiates the schism between the academic and the corporate for me; the great divide where one world no longer informs the other—a.k.a. “the real world.”

Paeth did hook me up with one of his colleagues in the science department. Although we never met, he suggested I look into the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which, he offered, may shed some light on why it is difficult to find environmental information on different packaging materials. While I found some vague information on this Act, it wasn’t until January 4th of 2010 that an article came out in The Washington Post that described this Act in laymen’s terms; I have included the pertinent sections of the editorial below:

Use of potentially harmful chemicals kept secret under law

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; A01

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

“You have thousands of chemicals that potentially present risks to health and the environment,” said Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that documented the extent of the secret chemicals through public-records requests from the EPA. “It’s impossible to run an effective regulatory program when so many of these chemicals are secret.”

Of the secret chemicals, 151 are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons a year and 10 are used specifically in children’s products, according to the EPA.

The identities of the chemicals are known to a handful of EPA employees who are legally barred from sharing that information with other federal officials, state health and environmental regulators, foreign governments, emergency responders and the public.

YIKES! It appears as though I have opened up a can of worms. Tune in tomorrow to see where this information takes me.

Day 1: Oct. 8th, 2009

January 21, 2010

While at my first “business conference” in Atlanta for the members-only Sustainable Packaging Coalition (hereafter, SPC), I had the opportunity to chit-chat with Robert Carlson of the California Integrated Waste Management Board; he was there to participate in a break-off seminar about Extended Producer Responsibility legislation, which would make those responsible for putting products on the shelf also responsible for reclaiming a certain percentage of their products’ packaging post-consumer. Europe already has a very sophisticated EPR system in place resulting from the 1994 EU Directive on Packaging Waste, which dictated that all participating EU countries had to reclaim a certain percentage of packaging post-consumer. Belgium, for instance, is at a 96% packaging recovery rate, which is outstanding.

Anyway, before I get off track, I approached Robert during a networking break because he was the only person there wearing clogs and looking like he may have an interest in jam band music, which was my college obsession. I quickly learned that he was not dressed-to-impress because he works for the State of California; as such, he was not there to buy or sell anything, which certainly made his time there more enjoyable. Once we established shared interests over the environment and beer (he brews his own beer in his past time), we agreed to go to the hotel bar and relax. While there, I quickly learned that Rob would be a very valuable contact for me in the Sustainable Packaging industry. After a Vodka and Cranberry, I retreated to my room to catch some shut-eye before the next jam-packed day at the conference.

I didn’t see Rob again while in Atlanta; he flew back to sunny Cali and I returned to Chicago.

Back in the office, I shot Rob an email:

Hello Rob,

This is Chandler—we met at the SPC members-only meeting in Atlanta two weeks ago. How’s it going? Happy to be home?

Although I wanted to drop you a line and say “it was really great to meet you,” (which it was), I actually have a research inquiry that you may be able to help me with.

As you know, I have been researching issues pertaining to packaging and sustainability for several months. Having joined the SPC, I gained access to all their research, which documents the LCA of common polymer and fiber-based packaging materials. With this research, I have charted: (1) the energy requirements of common polymer packaging materials (how many million Btus are needed per 1,000 lbs of resin produced), (2) greenhouse gas emissions in polymer production (how many thousand lbs of CO2 equivalents are generated per 1,000 lbs of resin produced), (3) energy requirements of corrugated containerboard and boxboard production (how many million Btus are needed per 1,000 lbs of material produced), and (4) the overall emissions of common polymer packaging materials (air, water and solid waste emissions). This is all good and fine, but I am running into a problem: I can’t find the same information that I charted for plastic for paper. In other words, I would like to chart the greenhouse gas emissions generated in paper production in order to compare with the emissions generated in plastic production. The fiber-based packaging material brief supplied by the SPC simply states that “the combined total direct and indirect emissions for 2005 virgin and recycled production were 1736.3 tons.” Moreover, in regard to water waste generated by paper production, the only statistic I can find is that 91% of the total TRI chemicals discharged in the water that year were done so by paper U.S. pulp and paper mills.

Okay, I know that that is a lot of information and that you may not be the person that I need to talk to; at the same time, however, I was curious if you could point me in the direction to be able to find more information pertaining to these issues or perhaps provide me with some references within the EPA who could provide the information I am looking for.

Regardless of your feedback, I hope all is well. Are you going to any conferences this month?

Best,

Chandler Slavin

Sustainability Coordinator

Dordan Mfg. Co. Inc.

I am a long-winded emailer, so I apologize in advance. Anyway, this email marks the first of a long and fruitful exchange of information relating to packaging and sustainability; of which, recycling begins to take center stage, as you will soon see. Tune in tomorrow to see Rob’s response, which is just the tip of the iceberg in regard to the complexities surrounding the relationship between business and the environment.