“A really slick business idea, is it?” John Hornaday asked himself a few days ago.
The Washington Post reporter had originally come across that phrase in an article on the cash-strapped State of California. The idea? Replace one-time aluminum foil with recycled polystyrene fastener. (“Can you imagine if the new packaging industry embraced this idea?” Hornaday writes.) But just as quickly, Hornaday wondered if he’d really got into a pure environmental fight.
It turns out that Hornaday isn’t alone in this thought. I turned to some of the strongest advocates for alternatives to paper and plastic packaging when I asked them whether so-called “reusable” packaging—paper as an alternative to plastic—actually had a future in the environmental community. A few quotes from the responses:
Brian Kime of MomsRising.org:
“While I think it’s a good idea to find a new packaging choice that’s more sustainable, it’s not going to win any races among sustainability battles. Paper has been around for a long time. We’re not there yet. It is so hard to change anything in human society.”
Jonathan Fisk, formerly of the Washington Post, now chief executive of Zero Waste America:
“You talk to lots of sustainable businesses, and there is a lot of debate and hype about reusable packaging as a ‘win-win,’ but there’s not a tremendous amount of sustainability density there. Because let’s face it, there aren’t many containers that look like they’re made of rice paper or are made of completely recycled polystyrene that are going to be a sustainable alternative.”
Eric Kennicott, chief executive of Pontius Global Brands, a design company that turns anything from soda bottles to gum wrappers into new products:
“With reusable packaging you have to do a lot of PR and go back in to every customer, so it’s not a thing to be taken lightly. On a practical level, what are we going to do? We have a set of reusable packaging standards that point toward using specific materials. It’s marketing to a certain segment. It’s hard to get people out of old products.”
Paul Bledsoe, who writes for EcoWatch:
“Long story short, I don’t really see reusable packaging displacing polystyrene by 2030. The reusable packaging stuff is easier to understand. Polystyrene is confusing and will need more research.”
Frank Chung, who worked in sustainability for IBM and now runs a firm in San Francisco called Isai, which specializes in paper products:
“If we think about paper versus plastics, it becomes easier. Paper is more reflective. Paper is more flexible. Paper is more beautiful.”
Are you a sustainable consumer? Check out our newest monthly/semi-monthly newsletter for more sustainable consumer insights, insights on the public and private sectors, and stories of sustainability success.