Packaging and Social Responsibility

Simpsons Recycled Paper

When I talk about the impact of social media, I do not only mean resources like Facebook or Twitter or Blogs. I include commercial television, everything internet accessible and rapidly disseminated throughout modern culture. This flow of information and ideas is having radical effects on life as we know it now. Even The Simpsons gets into the act. In the Eleventh Season episode “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner”, I just overheard a woman green-washing about the percent of recycled paper in something or other; and when pressed by Lisa Simpson for more detail, the woman admits to ZERO percent and adds “zero is a percent”. It’s funny in a Simpson’s episode, but not at all funny in real life, not when our environmental quality is already very stressed.

Simpsons Zero Percent

The May 5, 2014 issue of Plastics News had the following front page headline – “Environmental group targets Capri Sun”. The issue is packaging and the issue has been packaging for a very long time actually. I notice packaging. I separate and recycle packaging. Capri Sun is a product of Kraft Foods Inc. The reason the Capri Sun package is getting attention is that it’s made by bonding several layers of polymers, perhaps more than one resin type or simply multiple layers of, with aluminum. Their nemesis is Upstream (formerly, the Product Policy Institute) and the campaign is known as “Make It, Take It”, which launched April 30th. There are some well-known environmental groups involved in the effort – 5 Gyres, Clean Water Action, Natural Resources Defense Council, Water Keeper Alliance and the Sierra Club. Also involved are Eureka Recycling, Green America and the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Make It.  Take It. Campaign

Make It. Take It. Campaign

The goal of the campaign is to pressure companies to make beneficial packaging design changes and accept an extended responsibility for the goods they make as a producer of those goods. The effort also seeks to ENGAGE the American people into taking meaningful action. Not everyone is beating up on Capri Sun. A well known innovator in recycled product design, TerraCycle has partnered with Capri Sun for years. Where there are viable collection channels for Capri Sun pouches, they are shipped in bulk to TerraCycle. The simple re-use of the product has limited marketability but is a “fun” approach. They are turned into bags, backpacks and wallets, simply by sewing the pouches together. A larger volume possibility has been in turning them into something “new” to be used as benches or garbage cans.

TerraCycle is well-known to our firm. Back in 2001, Tom Szaky, then a Princeton University freshman became enamored with worms and composting. He entered his idea to use worms to eat organic waste into the Princeton Business Plan Contest, placing 4th. A fortunate meeting and acceptance by a venture capitalist, allowed him to start a business. While working with WalMart and Home Depot as distributors for his soil and fertilizer related products, Tom found himself under lawsuit by Scotts Miracle-Gro but fought back using “social media” with a blog called suedbyscotts.com. The case was later settled out of court but had brought TerraCycle wider national recognition.

You can see a TerraCycle logo,  made completely from drink pouches,  as you walk through their doors.

You can see a TerraCycle logo,
made completely from drink pouches,
as you walk through their doors.

From our explorations with TerraCycle, they are innovative and creative and find ways to leverage other companies to finance or take over their recycling ideas and concepts. For example, Capri Sun spends “millions of dollars a year to ‘sponsor’ the TerraCycle program”. That is the TerraCycle method of generating most of their revenue now – working with large consumer products companies to give them better environmental credentials – for a price.

Although the efforts by TerraCycle with Capri Sun are commendable, Upstream does not feel that they can make a significant dent in the volume of that waste stream. Certainly, as users of polymer/plastic resin feedstocks, Yemm & Hart does know that the more basic, and clean or simple, the feedstock – the better the results that we get when using those recovered materials to make quality new materials that can be used by building, remodeling and construction applications.

The truth is that “the pouch” has become a very ubiquitous waste stream. I now find “pouches” at the grocer with food stuffs that previously were in cans or tetra paks. I’ve found convenient single servings of olives, tuna and peanut butter appearing now in such pouches.

The issue is changing the perception, about the responsibility to thoughtfully consider the implications of the packaging created by high profile, profitable corporations in order to sell their actual product. It is in effect still a paper or plastic question, cloth or disposable diapers anyone ? For the most part, local governments hold the waste management responsibility for society and contribute to the recycling business as a market participant, in order to recover costs. In the early 1900s, garbage was different and was mostly coal ash and food scraps, with a small proportion of simple manufactured products, like paper and glass. Today, products and packaging comprise 71% of our waste stream, some containing toxic components.

CtS21ft CamH3' 35mm 0001

Right now, consumer goods companies can design a product, package it any way they like, and leave the problem of what to do with the product, its packaging and its environmental impacts to local governments, taxpayers, and garbage ratepayers. This is not a model system for the sustainable management of materials. This is the business as usual approach of corporations to shift costs away from their bottom line and onto consumers. As a result of this lack of corporate accountability for waste, the practical result remains that two-thirds of all that is consumed is ultimately discarded as garbage – ie ends up incinerated or landfilled.

As a society, we continue throwing away our natural resources, expending precious and limited energy resources in a wasteful manner, and failing to create new jobs, when that possibility would otherwise exist. Simply by throwing almost everything we buy, once consumed, into the trash. It is overdue to change our perspective on such aspects of our modern lives. The mission of Yemm & Hart, as a company, is to extend the life of natural resources that have already been extracted. It’s making “new” materials from waste materials that have been recovered, through recycling efforts.

~ Information Resources

Thanks to Funny As Duck.net for the Simpsons “cartoon strip” – http://funnyasduck.net/post/13168

“Consortium targets Capri Sun in new push to emphasize recycling” by Jim Johnson posted April 30, 2014 at PlasticsNews – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20140430/NEWS/140439993/consortium-targets-capri-sun-in-new-push-to-emphasize-recycling

“Make It, Take It” Campaign – http://upstreampolicy.org/projects/make-it-take-it-packaging-campaign/

TerraCycle – https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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