Wal-Mart approves of Hasbro plan to eliminate PVC packaging

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (Dec. 9, 12 p.m. ET) — Bad news for PVC packaging continues to mount.

Toy giant Hasbro Inc. said Dec. 8 that it plans to eliminate PVC from core product packaging beginning in 2013. The Pawtucket, R.I., firm has already begun to phase out PVC from some packaging.

“At a time when consumers have an abundance of choices, we hope our track record of innovation and corporate citizenship – including our focus on sustainable packaging and product safety – will give shoppers one more reason to choose our products during the holiday season and throughout the year,” stated Hasbro President and CEO Brian Goldner in a news release.

Retail colossus Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which itself has been trolling for PVC replacements for several years, praised Hasbro’s initiative in the same news release.

“Wal-Mart applauds Hasbro’s long-term commitment and accomplishments in corporate social responsibility,” noted Wal-Mart’s senior vice president of toys and seasonal merchandising Laura Phillips. “As Hasbro builds upon its industry leadership position in environmental sustainability and product safety, we are hopeful that all industry players will adopt similarly ambitious goals.”

PVC is widely used in thermoformed clam-shell and blister packaging. Its chief competitors in such applications are PET and polystyrene.

Hasbro, however, has not indicated any plan to eliminate PVC from its actual toys and games, according to a report from GreenBiz.com.

Hasbro’s PVC packaging plan is one of the goals in its new corporate responsibility report. Other goals include more use of recycled paper content, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, recycling more non-hazardous waste, curbing water consumption and replacing wire ties with paper rattan or bamboo.

An industry group criticized Hasbro’s plan, saying the company “did not do its homework.”

“Too many companies fall into the trap of thinking that sustainability is a matter of choosing a certain material or adding a certain feature to their operations,” said Allen Blakey, spokesman for Alexandria, Va.-based Vinyl Institute. “It’s not. Sustainability is constantly working to improve operations and products to reduce impacts. PVC can be as sustainable as other materials. Study after study has shown its life-cycle impacts are equal to or even less than competing materials.”

Blakey said almost 46 percent of U.S. consumers have access to recycling PVC non-bottle rigid packaging, about 8 to 9 percent percentage points less than access to PET/HDPE non-bottle rigid recycling and ahead of several other plastic types.

Most of Hasbro’s toys are manufactured in 46 factories in China, according to its website. It owns and operates only two production plants, in East Longmeadow, Mass., and Waterford, Ireland. These operations mainly make board games and puzzles. In total, Hasbro relies on 115 third party manufacturers around the world. The firm also licenses its brand name to producers of apparel, footwear, home goods, health and beauty products, food and publishing.

Most dolls and many other toys are made of PVC. Hasbro is not known as a major doll maker but among its biggest sellers are G.I. Joe action figures.

Greenpeace said it could not comment specifically about Hasbro’s announcement because it has not seen the firm’s implementation plan. But it encourages all companies using hazardous chemicals in their supply chain and products to eliminate them.

The environmental organization did, however, give a thumbs up to Hasbro’s plan to avoid doing business with Asia Pulp and Paper, a company Greenpeace alleges is destroying Indonesian rain forest.

A statement by Wal-Mart in Hasbro’s news release underlines the retailer’s long-time support for PVC alternatives. As far back as 2007 the Bentonville, Ark., mass retailer said it wanted to eliminate PVC packaging from its private label brands.

In 2008, Toys R Us joined Target Corp., Sears and Wal-Mart in announcing plans to reduce PVC in packaging and products. At that time Hasbro said it agreed to include PVC in a broader sustainability dialogue with shareholders.

In June 2011 Wal-Mart held a sustainable packaging conference in Toronto. At the conference, Canada’s top five grocery chains said they want their suppliers to shift to PET for clamshell thermoformed packaging to simplify the product stream and to increase recycling. Guy McGuffin, vice president of sustainable packaging for Wal-Mart Canada of Mississauga, Ontario, estimated 5.8 billion pounds of thermoformed packaging go to landfills in North America each year.

“Our goal is to facilitate the recycling of that material,” McGuffin announced. Also at the conference, Jeff Rice, sustainability director for parent company Wal-Mart, said 80 percent of a company’s environmental impact comes from its supply chain.

“We do have a large scope and scale, which puts us in a really strong position to lead on a lot of initiatives, but we can’t do that without collaboration,” Rice told delegates.