The Gray about Green

Dennis Salazar

January 30, 2014

4 Min Read
The Gray about Green

“There is no black and white in green, and the gray in sustainable packaging is growing daily.”

I may be paraphrasing a quote I first heard some time ago at a green conference but I think the message is clear. For people who want and need absolutes such as yes/no, good/bad, right/wrong, etc., this relatively new area of sustainability can be frustrating and confusing.

Though we sometimes choose to highlight the humor in this almost daily dilemma with a cartoon such as Eco Ed or an occasional tongue in cheek blog post, but the problem is a serious one and the consequences potentially disastrous. That is why it is so important we all have to remain open to the possibility if not, likelihood, our own unique perspective may not be absolutely correct or absolutely incorrect.

With this in mind, I speed forward into the blogosphere thanks to John Kalkowski and David Bellm of Reed Business for this opportunity to write for them and the readers of Packaging Digest. The preface above is designed to let you know what to expect from me in future posts. In writing and presentation, I often refer to “common sense sustainability” and  to “eco-consistency” and over the course of time, my hope is to convince you that these two terms are not at all contrary and very much necessary for my two different passions of packaging and sustainability to co-exist.

A Few Gray Areas in Sustainable Packaging

There are many and they are almost sure to appear in future posts. Some of the most highly debated areas currently include:

  • Multi-layer packaging materials some are proposing for everything from milk to water to eliminate the “great menace to mankind” - plastic bottles. Please note the sarcasm in that quote.

  • PLA or polylactic acid – is it the solution to all of our packaging environmental problems or an option that is going to pollute the waste stream and lead millions of the world’s poor into starvation?

  • Plastics- what is biodegradable versus oxo-degradable and are either the right or best solution?

Another area that is near and dear to my own heart is the area of 100% PCW corrugated board. Some claim it is the worst thing that we can possibly do with our paper waste, others think it is the ideal solution for a fast growing problem.

My Own Thoughts on 100% PCW corrugated

To be completely candid, our company is best known for our Globe Guard 100% PCW corrugated boxes but please allow me to explain that we also offer 100% recycled (non-PCW) corrugated board, and standard (30-40%) recycled content board so we really have no ax to grind in one direction or the other. We are firm believers that the application needs to drive the packaging product selection and we will continue offering all three products and many variations of each, to be able to satisfy the great variety of applications that we come across.

It is also important to note that our position on 100% PCW does not come from the classroom, textbook or sitting in on a conference presentation, but from a combination of real world applications and dozens of field tests. I’m not sure this necessarily makes us more credible but I would like to think the scars and hair loss account for something.

Here is Where Common Sense Comes into Play

The price of paper waste has plummeted and in many areas there is a virtual glut of waste in search of a purpose. Not too long ago, compressed bales of corrugated and paper scrap were a source of revenue for some companies and now they are literally giving those same bales away to cover removal and transportation cost. If the trend continues, those same companies may soon have to pay to have their crushed and baled corrugated boxes removed from their docks and parking lots.

Why is this happening? Everyone with an interest in the environment is promoting recycling. Even the people who reduced the concept of sustainability from Wal-Mart’s original 7 R’s to a much more manageable 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle) will agree that recycling is a critical part of solving the waste problem because we simply cannot reduce and reuse fast enough or in sufficient volume to make those two options totally and completely effective.

At the same time, most people agree that as a society we may only be recycling as little as 30% of our recyclable paper waste so we can easily see where this garbage barge is headed. We have to come up with new and better ways to recycle, reprocess and reuse the corrugated and paper waste we all create. Using 100% PCW products, whenever possible, may not be the perfect environmental solution but it is a darn good one until we come up with a better option to protect the environment and a better use for the used paper and corrugated we are asking others to save from the waste stream.

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