"The China Syndrome"

Dennis Salazar

January 30, 2014

4 Min Read
"The China Syndrome"


china_syndrome_v3.jpgThis is the title of a 1979 hit movie that predicted the earth’s demise via a nuclear energy disaster and it is best recalled for featuring a very young trio of Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon. Ironically, today that same title could apply to the potential environmental disaster resulting from the massive amounts of unsafe and poor quality product and packaging being imported from China and other countries.

Yet many large American retailers and companies continue to import most if not all of their products from overseas. Why?

They are Price and Convenience Shoppers!
The most obvious answer is price but there are many reasons why our overseas competitors have rapidly gained stunning market share. One that has gone relatively unnoticed is their willingness and ability to give our customers “all-inclusive” pricing which usually includes all freight, duties, and of course packaging.

These off shore competitors have not only reduced the price of the products and the packaging they come in, they wisely have also reduced their customers’ procurement costs. Most American business people would probably admire the strategy and execution of the game plan, if it wasn’t destroying domestic employers and employees.

Unfortunately too many American companies are using this purchasing efficiency to skirt the issue of sustainability and to be able to have plausible deniability when it comes to packaging. “Our product comes from China,” I have been told time and time again, “so we have no control over packaging.” That is one of the greatest lies ever told and ranks right behind, “We had no reason to believe it caused cancer.”

This position essentially eliminates the need for any domestic company to avoid assuming responsibility for anything that is done for them in China or any other part of the globe. Even recent news stories about children’s toys containing deadly lead paint were quickly defused by blaming the overseas supplier.

Had it been a domestic supplier, the guilty plant would have been quickly shut down and the domestic product selling company would have likely paid a much higher price. Certainly companies have gone out of business for far less serious infractions than poisoning our children.

Why Does Foreign Packaging Matter?
There is a long list of reasons why this should matter to us as American consumers and believers in sustainability. Here are a few to consider:

1. A surprise in every shipment
First and foremost, we have no idea what the packaging contains in terms of content or inks. Eventually this discarded packaging will either find its way to our recycling stream or our landfills and we really don’t know what we are adding. Did you ever notice the unique, pungent smell of some foreign packaging? Did you ever wonder or question what you are inhaling? Perhaps you should.

2. Surviving the low bid process
Foreign packaging lowers the bar for domestic packaging manufacturers. Social as well as quality standards and practices are often times abandoned as they struggle to compete with the tremendous labor cost advantage of the foreign competition.

3. What are the “3 R’s”?
Packaging is not being recycled, reused or reduced. For example, you would think anyone shipping product and packaging to the opposite end of the globe would understand the need to keep everything compact and minimal but they don’t. Their standards are different than ours so oversized packaging is the norm, not the exception.

This post is not about market protectionism but rather about corporate irresponsibility. In this case the domestic companies in question are the customers and buyers of the foreign suppliers so they have the clout to drive positive change in a foreign land, if they choose to. Or it may be easier and more economical to simply turn the blind eye to the problem and duck the responsibility.

As long as domestic companies are able to pass the buck and avoid thinking about the long term consequences of their importing, the bigger the economic, social and environmental problem we will all eventually have to face.

I will be honest and confess it is over twenty years since I have last watched the movie, “The China Syndrome” and I really do not recall the conclusion. However, I am fairly certain it did not have a happy ending.


Sign up for the Packaging Digest News & Insights newsletter.

You May Also Like