Procter & Gamble's commitment to renewable materials includes finding sustainable alternative materials for both products and their packaging, such as renewable forest products and palm oil. It plans to use sustainably-sourced, sugar cane-derived plastic in a new process that transforms sugar cane into high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic, commonly used in product packaging.
The HDPE material is aimed at the company's Pantene, Covergirl, and Max Factor products, and it is 100-percent recyclable in existing municipal recycling facilities. Last year, a version of this material appeared in Pantene Pro-V Nature Fusion products. This material was produced by first converting some of the sugar cane to ethanol and then into plastic using a sugar cane byproduct from other parts of the plant that creates some of the energy needed to fuel that part of the process.
Procter & Gamble also is focused on R&D with suppliers and partners to identify new renewable materials and methods for sourcing existing materials from renewable feedstocks. In particular, the company has committed to the elimination of PVC in its packaging, and it began avoiding that material in the early 1990s. PVC currently represents less than 1.5 percent of the company's total plastic packaging materials, and Procter & Gamble has said it expects to eliminate all remaining PVC in packaging within the next few years.
More power to you, P&G. It's the big guys with the R&D dollars who can help get some of the initial and ongoing research done in the search for sustainable materials, and who can serve as leaders in their industry.
I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments, Ann, of more power to P&G and the other CPG giants who can pour R&D dollars into sustainable packaging design research. I'd be happy to see the elimination of those bulky plastic clamshell packages (not sure if that is what you are describing as PVC) that are always impossible to open and seem indestructible. Every time I throw one out, whether it's from a small toiletry product or a kids' toy, I always lament how long it will likely be sitting in a landfill. This moldable wood pulp packaging material is a good thing!
Beth: I agree with you about the plastic clamshell packages. This isn't really relevant to the sustainability aspect, but many of these plastic clamshell packages have sharp edges and have a propensity to cut hands. I'd be glad if that problem could be resolved.
Beth, PVC is a material used in the clamshell package design, not an integral part of that design. I agree with you and Chuck--they are not easy to open and are for made for manufacturers' convenience, not consumers'. One of these days there will be a lot of older people unable to open them. Personally, I boycott hard to open packaging. In any case, I always (rather hopefully) put that type of hard plastic into my recycle bins.
When I was an undergraduate, I went to see a presentation by Keith Grime, who at the time was Procter & Gamble's vice president of research and development. I was amazed by just how much innovative research P&G does. It made me see the whole world of consumer packaged goods in a totally different light.
Dave, I keep being surprised and amazed by what big companies like Ford, P&G and DuPont are doing with their commitments to sustainability, especially materials, and with the reach that those changes can make all the way down the supply chain. The fact that P&G is targeting replacements for not only its products but their packaging is pretty neat. And that represents a lot of plastic.
The marketing department is problaby crying rivers over the loss of their crystal-clear clamshell packaging. I can understand their woe; the image included with the article shows packaging that draws the eye away from the product.
Tough on the marketing department; this is a good step. Marketing will simply have to work at finding new ways to draw our eyes to the right place.
TJ, I don;'t understand your point. The clamshell design of the new packaging still has a clear top "shell." I believe the main material replacement was in the bottom, colored "shell," the color of which changes with the model based on what ever the package designers--presumably in league with marketing--have decided.
What do you see is drawing the eye away from the product?
Clamshell packaging has usually been clear top and bottom. This permits good visibility to the product from front or back, OR, permits a single clamshell to provide multiple "packaging" options by changing the inexpensive interior cardboard.
The design shown in the image has an opaque back shell. This will place limits on the marketing department.
Frankly, I'm surprised the marketing department bought into it. They are usually VERY reluctant to change anything that might impact the product's "image".
I know of a company that offered a machine which would provide 10% savings in packaging material for industrial bread bakeries, AND at the same time be easier to maintain than the current machinery. The marketing department for the bakery testing the prototype eventually said "no thank you" because they were concerned the minor change in packaging would turn away consumers.
Thanks, TJ, now I get your drift. I'm more used to clamshell packaging with a cardboard or other hard material backing that is opaque, not transparent. Interesting: perhaps we are talking about different product categories. In any case, the marketing department clearly is not the final arbiter in these decisions, nor do they appear to be final arbiters at companies with major sustainability goals and programs.
Nice article, Ann. I'm impressed that P&G would commit 57% of packaging to sustainable materials for one of its major products. That's more than greenwash. Given that P&G is the largest consumer packaged goods company this should have some impact -- both in actual sustainability and by leading others in the industry.
Rob, I know a lot of people have become cynical about green materials, and green this and green that, because of greenwashing--including you. And including me. That's why I'm impressed by companies like DuPont and Ford and P&G, which are pursuing some pretty tough, thorough sustainability goals. Meaning, the kind that make us actually have to change our habits (gasp), in this case, their habits, in large volumes. And yes, these three huge companies appear to be leaders in their fields, which also bodes well for their impact on everyone else.
I agree, Ann. What's encouraging here is that these companies would not be putting in this effort if they did not believe it matters to their customers. The story between the lines here is that customers prefer companies with effective green initiatives.
Rob: Good point about it not being greenwash. Although there is admittedly still a lot of greenwash out there, I'm seeing more and more efforts at real "greenness." In the auto industry, hybrids are becoming the norm for new vehicle introductions. I recently finished a slideshow on concept cars, an nine of the ten mentioned are either hybrids or pure electrics.
Major corporations like P&G, Ford and DuPont make technology decisions about how to fulfill sustainability goals based on both economic and technical feasibility. This became clear to me during an interview with DuPont's head of renewable materials, some of which appears in my upcoming bioplastics feature in the March issue of Design News. It's also become clear with nearly every new materials technology I've reported on. So the replacement materials must have the same features, be about the same cost, and most likely (and practically a necessity in automotive manufacturing), their process should ideally be either a drop-in replacement during manufacturing, or easily appended to the existing manufacturing process.
But none of those factors tells us why these companies have sustainability goals in the first place. The main reason for those goals is customers, specifically consumers. The Freedonia Group analyst I interviewed for the same feature made it clear that, at least for bioplastics, consumer demand for sustainable solutions is what's driving innovation. It's consumers who are willing to pay a price premium for ecological plastic bag replacements or EVs, for instance, not aerospace engineers who care if their aircraft components are made of green materials.
I agree, Chuck, there is tons of greenwash. I receive scores of press releases from PRNewswire for Green Scene. The majority of "green" releases are items like a compnay that has reduced the energy consumption of its call center by 5% due to a green initiative.
Good thing this is not greenwash. Unfortunately, the amount of greenwashing out there has apparently made a lot of people so cynical about green anything that they find it difficult to grasp the reality of actual improvements like this one.
I'm cynical, too, about some things. But I think it's important to keep in mind that, like the old metaphor, a few bad apples don't make all the apples bad. I've been surprised at some readers who seem to think that any "green" announcement must be a greenwashing stunt. Healthy skepticism is a long way from a closed mind. Meanwhile, the willingness of consumers to pay a bit more for at least some green alternatives is increasing, while the price differentials come down.
9 of 10 may be green. But until the 9 of the top 10 new cars purchased are green and more expensive, I think we are still seeing the world through green colored glasses. The all mighty dollar which is spent by the American consumer will determine if green goes. I hope it does. And I will do my part to pay a little extra when given the chance. But as the economy struggles and people are having trouble just getting food on the table do to unemployment it will be difficult for people to pay more for green.
Nice article Ann. This article is really an eye opener. This reminds me of one of the slogans of Greenpeace that we do not inherit this planet, we just borrowed it from our children. Sustainable design is important and it is high time to think on cradle to cradle design rather than cradle to grave ..!
vimalkumarp, I share the same sympathies. I'm continually amazed at all the work being done on sustainable materials, and how far it's come in the last 30 years. I'm also often surprised at the fact that I'm surprised, meaning the fact that so little about the strides that have made seems to be commonly known.
Rob, one thing I learned in the reporting for my upcoming March feature on bioplastics is the fact the the whole move there is definitely consumer driven. Sources told me this is also the case with sustainability initiatives in general. And that's why the big companies are doing all this.
I'm going to put on my cynic hat for a minute. The accomplishment is great and admirable (I recycle voraciously). But, it was driven by the "middle line". PVC is no doubt more expensive than pulp, especially with crude headed north of $105/bbl. The lighter unit weight saves transportation costs through the supply chain, too. If PVC were 1 cent cheaper than any other option, the packaging would not have changed.
@vimalkumarp- That is not a Greenpeace quote, it's from native Americans although the exact source seems to vary.
The saying is usually ascribed to the Iroquois. However, the Constitution of the Iroquois Nations (aka the Great Binding Law), codified for the original five nations and a very interesting document indeed:
doesn't actually say "seven." In fact, seven is a "magic" or symbolic number more often associated with continental Europe and the Near East than with native peoples of the western hemisphere. The relevant passages in the Constitution say:
"Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation."
"the Five Nations...shall labor, legislate and council together for the interest of future generations."
But the oft-misquoted line, "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation" reads shorter and sweeter to modern ears.
I can understand your view that P&G's change in materials was likely economically motivated. I agree, but the economic equation may go beyond material cost and include competitive considerations. If the use of green materials is tested and found to help persuade the customer to choose the P&G product, the company may choose those materials even if they're more expensive than plastic.
Thank you Ann for the article. I applaud the initiative to remove that much plastic from a package and it still look terrific. I have curiously been looking to find a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for a molded pulp tray versus a PVC or PET blister without any luck. I would like to understand how the overall process to harvest, process, mold, and dye the pulp material compares against the common plastic clamshell materials (virgin or recycled). I hope it is intended that this package get separated and recycled with newspaper and that it will be clear to the consumer, or else this will just end up in the landfill. I haven't read that the material is biodegradable. Regarding some easy opening blogs, the packs I have seen have a strong lid seal without a peel tab or perforation. Plan on scissors unless the US version has improvements. Just some things to think about when reading the press releases.
Brian, I would also like to know more about the recyclability claims and the LCA info.Separation is a big deal in recycling plastics. The consumers' local waste management supplier is supposed to give their customers updated lists of what's recyclable and what's not. Perhaps Be Green, the supplier, can give you more details on these issues. Please let us know if you find out.
Will do. Thanks Ann. I was hoping maybe one of your readers might know about the LCA. Also I hoped my reply would at least raise some questiona so others might not take everything that says "sustainability" at face value. Sustainability is not cut and dry. It seems every question leads to more questions. Be well. BF
Thanks, Brian. I don't think you need to worry that our readers will take sustainability claims at face value, lol. They seem to have a lot of collective healthy skepticism. OTOH, although many of us have become cynical about green materials because of greenwashing as Rob has pointed out several times in various threads, the fact is that the industry has been busy developing not only various assessment tools, like LCA, but actual certification programs like those mentioned in the article.
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