You would think that the green movement and the sustainability push from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and others would be enough to dispel any concerns about the long-term viability of green packaging. But the current economic situation has underscored that there must also be a cost-savings with a green solution.
``Everyone wants packaging solutions that cut their costs,'' said Emmanuel Cerf, vice president of sales and marketing of Polypack Inc. in Pinellas Park, Fla. ``For example, [customers] are all asking for biodegradable film. But it costs 10 percent more. There is a question of whether they will pay more for it.''
Likewise, Pete Grande, chief executive officer of Command Packaging of Vernon, Calif., said that since the economy went into a tumble two months ago, companies that were eager for environmentally friendly packaging now also ``want to see some savings.''
That's why Linda Bracha, president and founder of seven-year-old CPT Coextruded Plastic Technologies Inc. in Edgerton, Wis., still thinks what will happen long term is anyone's guess.
CPT, which has trademarked the name Go-Green, makes, among other things, rigid preprinted polypropylene trays that eliminate the need for sleeves, boxes, bottom labels and adhesives.
``With oil prices going down, I don't know if going green will remain in the forefront,'' Bracha said in an interview at Pack Expo in Chicago, held Nov. 9-13. ``The jury is out as to what this economy will bring to the pioneers of green in the packaging industry.''
Bracha thinks that part of the problem is ``a lack of understanding'' on the part of customers and the public as to what sustainable packaging is all about. ``It is a huge educational problem that the entire industry manufacturers, retailers and others has to overcome.''
Long term, she said, it is critically important to get more people to recycle more and ``to make people [realize] the need for sophisticated recycling that can sort out and reuse the different materials. We have got to stop putting valuable materials into landfills,'' Bracha said.
However, she said, ``because cradle-to-cradle is not the scenario today'' and because the majority of food packaging still ends up in landfills, the best approach is to reduce the amount of material used.
``The key driver for reducing carbon emissions is to avoid as much waste as possible,'' said Bracha. ``Today's solution comes from source reduction and that solution is `invisible' to many consumers who think that a product has to be biodegradable or compostable or made from recycled material to be green.''
Compostable products, she said, are a good solution for fresh produce, school lunch programs, the airline business and flower pots, just to name a few. But they are not the answer to everything in the current environment.
``We can sit down with a food processor and explain it and they get it,'' Bracha said. But it is more difficult to explain that to consumers and the general public. ``There is a need for everyone to step up to this education challenge manufacturers, suppliers and packaging companies.''
Bracha has developed a Web site, www.gogreenpackaging.com, that has information about its products but is also designed to increase understanding of green packaging issues.
For example, on the main page, when you click on the heading, ``What Your Buyers Need to Know,'' you are taken to a page that describes the purpose and three types of packaging primary, secondary and transit packaging. The page also has a recycling logo guide, information on compostability, a glossary of terms and definitions, and statistics about packaging.
``Approximately 70 percent of primary packaging is used for food and drink,'' states the Web site. ``Paper and cardboard are the most widely used packaging materials in terms of weight. Paper and cardboard account for 43 percent by weight of all packaging and are used to pack 25 percent of all goods. Paper and cardboard packaging make up 6.4 percent of the overall content of the typical household garbage can. Plastic packaging accounts for 20 percent of the weight of all packaging and 53 percent of all goods are packaged in plastics.''
Bracha said she has placed the information there because ``we want people to know, in a nonpromotional way, more about green. If we don't educate, it is going to be hard to succeed'' long term.