Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Candy Wrappers

Candy Wrappers
Originally uploaded by bonbayel.

The candy in the picture all purport to be organic or sustainable or good for you or the earth or free trade.

Some are packaged in biodegradable paper or cardboard (the ones on the right,) some include a layer of metalic film with the paper, and some are packaged in decidedly non-biodegradable plastics.

If very fragile chocolate and even cookies can be packaged in paper, why can't Clif energy bars, Newman's Peppermint Cups or Barbara's Snackimals?

When I was a kid all candy was packaged either in paper wrappers (lke Mars bars and Baby Ruths,) cardboard boxes (Raisinettes, little chocolate mints and Malt Balls) or cellophane (like jelly beans,) if we didn't get them loose into a little paper bag.

As far as I remember, they all lasted very well like that, thank you, except for the occasional forgotten chocolate bar that got a bit white after a while. We weren't all that good about littering back then (although in Girl Scouts, we learned "Don't be a litterbug!") But the wrappers were biodegradable and disappeared with time.

I don't remember when the first plastic packages came - maybe in the late 60's or 70's? Now, if you aren't a litterbug, your packaging will last forever in a landfill.

If you are a litterbug, you'll be seeing that wrapper next time you climb the mountain, unless, of course, some animal tries to eat it - if it tempted you in the store, maybe it will tempt a deer or bear or wid sheep? Or maybe the rain will wash it away, down the stream and finally out to sea, where either it will end up in the belly of some marine animal, or in one of two the Texas-sized plastic dumps in the Pacific?

If you've been following my blog, you may know that I've been taking a class in Adobe Illustrator for which I made a lovely picture called Solar Sister. Our second project involves redesigning the packaging of some product, and I decided to redesign the Clif Bar the I've been eating to get me back home up hill on my bike after class.

I thought I would be just redesigning it so there would be a picture of the Oatmeal, Raisins and Walnuts on the package, since it's hard to tell which flavor you're picking up. But we were supposed to do a little research before attempting the design, during which it occured to me that all the energy bars, including the organic ones like Clif, are packaged in plastic, which I think is called Mylar. So then I started thinking about the package material as well. When I contacted the company, I received this reply from Jeff in Consumer Service:

Our packaging is made of a two layer structure which sandwiches a metalized coating and the printed design between the layers. This structure enables us to provide a product which retains its freshness and moisture on the shelf. However this structure is not recyclable. At this time, there are no materials that are recyclable and meet our standards for retaining product freshness.

We are pushing our packaging vendors to come up with a structure that is recyclable and provides adequate barrier properties. If such a material becomes available in the future, our R&D department will strongly consider its use.

As I wrote back,

How long a shelf-life do you need to work with? It seems to me that freshness should require a shorter shelf-life. Obviously carrying bars in the bottom of my knapsack or back pockets doesn’t help them keep looking good, but I’d assume that some sort of sustainable material – several layers if you need – would be preferable to candy papers trashing a mountainside or ending up in the gullet of a fish.

When the trade-off is the sustainability of the land that I am hiking in, I’d prefer a shorter shelf-life! You don’t always have to listen to the plastics people.

What do you think? I'm thinking of going over entirely to chocolate bars for my energy food, preferably ones that don't have a metal foil liner to the paper packaging. But I guess I'll have to eat all the products I bought for this little packaging study!


Bill said...

I agree Bonnie! I too prefer a shorter shelf-life to preserve the land being hiked on! Good luck on your study!

bonbayel said...

I got a reply from Jeff in Consumer Service, which is hopeful!

"We enjoy hearing from passionate consumers and enjoy this form of dialogue. I can assure you that as a company we are aware that our current packaging is not very ‘green’, and are working towards a more sustainable wrapper for our bars. If you choose to stop purchasing our products and move on to something else with a more sustainable wrapper we understand; however please check back with us in the future to see what our R&D Team has come up with. It is our eventual goal to have a wrapper which can either be composted or will break down in a landfill. Unfortunately I do not have a specific timeline as to when folks will start to see this, but we hope to have it soon."

bonbayel said...

I've been working my way through the snacks I bought for this little survey. I discovered that the nice organic cookies in a box (which were very good) were in a plastic bag inside the box - so they were protected with double the trash as Barbara's with only the plastic bag!

I read a long article in the Coop America Magazine today about ways to avoid trah in the first place. Thy suggested sending non-biodegrdable packaging back to the company with a copy of their article. I think I'll write a whole post about that soon.

bonbayel said...

Recycling breakthrough!
As you can read in my latest blog entry Terracycle Recycles Wrappers, a new company called Terracycle has figured out what to do with all this non-biodegradable trash!

Cotton Shower Curtain said...

Cool Post! Very informative dude. I saw this site while browsing and think it may be relevant http://www.buygreensavvy.com . Keep up the good work!