A few weeks ago, Bridget Croke, Managing Director of Closed Loop Partners (New York City) , responded to an article in Civil Eats on compostable containers by stating, “We all love to hang our hat on a silver bullet, but everything has some impact so we need to think beyond the headline to make the best choice.”
That got me thinking about the concept of environmental impact reduction. Notice I didn’t say environmental impact elimination. Thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, there’s no such thing as impact elimination. There will be an impact, regardless of our collective and sincere desires for there not to be one.
Croke’s statement also leads me to remind my clients and associates that when it comes to designing sustainable packaging, it’s perfectly reasonable to pursue a path of reduction rather than elimination: evolution rather than revolution.
This is why, when the concept of sustainability was first discussed more than 25 years ago, we talked about “the journey” and not “the destination.”
One company that has impressed me with its desire to take an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary, approach to environmental impact, is Kwik Lok, based in Yakima, WA. Known primarily for its ubiquitous high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) bread bag closures, it now makes a similar product called Eco-Lok, which is primarily HIPS, but also contains up to 20% biopolymer. Adding a plant-based resin reduces both the use of fossil fuel-based plastics and greenhouse gas emissions.
I spoke with Don Carrell, CEO of Kwik Lok, about the thinking behind the Eco-Lok introduction. “When we first looked at reducing the environmental footprint of our closures, our first reaction was to completely replace HIPS,” Carrell says. “The problem is that HIPS provides all of the required functionality and does so at a price that matches the economic criteria of our customers. There isn’t a legacy polyolefin that can match these characteristics. Then, we learned about a company close-by in Idaho, Falls, Idaho, called BioLogiQ, which makes NuPlastiQ BioPolymer, a 100% plant-based thermoplastic starch. BioLogiQ developed a proprietary HIPS/NuPlastiQ blend for us that delivers all of the necessary functional and economic performance metrics that we and our customers need and does so with a reduced environmental footprint.”
I asked Carrell about how comfortable he was with the fact that Eco-Lok is still primarily HIPS, which is not widely recyclable.
“Ironically, it’s not the material which keeps our closures from being post-consumer recycled, it’s their size," he responded. "They fall through the sorting screens at municipal recycling facilities (MRFs), along with virtually all other small sized pieces, caps, closures, etc. When you look at the big picture for this application, what we’ve done is a significant improvement versus similar closures.”
Most importantly, Carrell also discussed the long-term outlook for Eco-Lok. “We’re not done yet. This was a first step, and we will continue to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of our products. We may increase the amount of biopolymer in the mix, work with MRFs to use newer technology that will allow our materials to be properly sorted or look for different materials that complement the everchanging recycling and composting landscapes. We believe that it will take this type of constant innovation and open-minded thinking to succeed in the future.”
Welcome to the Sustainable Packaging Evolutionary War, Don and everyone.
Attention readers: I’d love to hear your Evolutionary War story, too!
Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld has been involved in sustainable packaging for 25 years, working as a marketing executive, consultant, strategic planner, editor, writer, and communications expert. He’s President of Robert Lilienfeld Consulting, working with materials suppliers, converters, trade associations, retailers, and brand owners. Reach him at email@example.com.