Snack food giant Frito-Lay made big news early this year when it rolled out plant-made, 100 percent compostable bags for its SunChips brand snacks. The bags were designed to compost in 14 weeks when placed in an active compost pile. The company announced this week, however, that it would pull the earth-friendly bags from shelves for five of the six SunChips flavors. The reason: Consumers deemed the bags too noisy and sales had dropped by 11 percent since the bags were introduced.
The company says it’s working on a next-generation compostable bag with a less rigid molecular structure, the culprit for all the extra noise. Meanwhile, many other companies are greening their packaging, whether it’s by reducing the amount of material used, making packaging lighter, switching to recyclable materials, or cutting out packing materials altogether.
Here’s a guide to other types of packaging that aren’t such a drain on the earth’s resources.
Styrofoam alternatives. We all know about the evils of Styrofoam: It’s petroleum based, takes forever to break down, and is near impossible to recycle. Many companies that use the stuff have already transitioned to greener products for packaging or packing.
Some are even developing their own sustainable packaging. Dell, for example, introduced compostable bamboo-based packaging for some of its products this year. The new bamboo cushioning is manufactured from local materials in China, where many of Dell’s products are made and shipped from, making this a local packaging option as well.
Companies that use Styrofoam packing peanuts are also adapting alternatives to these tiny but unenvironmental products. Pouches filled with air are becoming more common, as are repurposed materials like newsprint and brown craft paper.
When packing boxes yourself, we suggest trying to repurpose household items for packing peanuts. Paper works great, as do plastic shopping bags—try tying them in a knot for extra cushioning power. Even old towels or t-shirts can be useful.
Annoying plastic clamshell alternatives. The complaints about these things are myriad. Besides being a big waste of plastic that’s usually unrecyclable, they are nearly impossible to open without a very substantial blade of some sort. Some packagers are now looking at ways to get around the need for these containers by exploring options that use more easily recyclable plastic, as well as recycled paperboard in place of some of the plastic or to hold more snugly fitting plastic pieces in place. Bulk retailers like Sam’s Club and Costco are big fans of these clamshell replacements, which by some estimates cut down on plastic use by up to 85 percent.
Thinking outside of the box—literally. The companies making the biggest strides in sustainable packaging are the ones foregoing it all together. Bayer and Aleve, for example, determined their pill bottles didn’t need to come in additional boxes, and instead started including additional information about contents and directions on a paper attached to the bottle. And HP recently designed a line of laptops that came packaged in a 100 percent recycled messenger bag instead of the usual cardboard and plastic computer packaging—reducing the materials used by a whopping 97 percent.