Of Desserts and Styrofoam

Styrofoam and desert Photo Courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/profile/diamondjoyWe received this marvelous present today from Galaxy Desserts via FedEx delivered in a cold pack  (standard double wall corrugated box with a expanded polystyrene cooler box that filled the inside).  Normally, I have problems with anything shipped in expanded polystyrene (EPS) a.k.a. Styrofoam®*, but this time I took another look. My manufacturing background got me intrigued by its design and my green-wash ears perked up when I saw a “sustainability” flier doubling as a Dry Ice Warning /Safe handling sheet.

This “sustainability” flier was an interesting twist and nicely done.  So at the top of the flier is a clear “WARNING! Dry Ice Inside” notification with a list of do not dos (do not eat, do not touch without gloves, do not inhale, etc.)  That in it of itself was refreshing to see, as most of the time no such warning is included and people play with and burn themselves.  That warning took the top third of the paper.

Then came the recycling symbol – what, recycle dry ice?  Nah, it was about the box.  The text started off with the perfunctory – “One of our core values here at Galaxy Desserts is sustainability” which is partly true based on a perusal of their website. Their stated value is actually “Sustainable” and specifically refers to “Profitable, long term orientation, achieving balance” with no reference to the environment, social, or cultural elements of sustainability. (Greenwash flag – Make sure you understand and explain your sustainability stance before marketing, publishing it as a “core value.”) Now, given the rest of the document, I’m willing to let that slide, but recommend that the company make a stronger stand on their website and spell it out more.

What intrigued me about this Dry Ice Warning document and sustainability sheet was both their acknowledgment of the problems with expanded polystyrene recycling (i.e. most curbside recycling programs will not take EPS), and secondly, their efforts to help the end user to better deal with this unwieldy waste (EPS cooler) that has just arrived on their doorstep.

So what have they done? First they recommend two major resources for finding a new home for your new box 1) drop it off at the local UPS store for them to reuse  2)Find a local EPS recycling facility via Epspackaging.org or Earth911.org Then if you flip the page (made from 30% post-consumer recycled paper) is a full page of EPS Packaging Drop Off Locations with locations in 37/50 states.

Nicely done.

  • They protect the consumer with the safety handling section.
  • They explain their current  situation with respect to using EPS for shipping containers.
  • They engage consumer by offering resources for recycling of the containers.
  • Bonus points awarded for the recycled content paper usage, combining the warning notice and sustainability flier onto one sheet, and for double sided printing.

If you are going to use EPS, I think this is a stellar example of being responsible about it.

Now, about that expanded polystyrene.  There are a growing number of alternatives to EPS coolers being developed and currently existing in the marketplace.  I’ve seen a couple of monstrous hybrids of foil and foam insulation claiming to be “green” – nNot in my book.  The most promising are the bio-engineered / bio-degradable packaging products.  Here are two alternatives in cold pack shipping containers that I found using a brief google / bing search:

Perhaps my next cold-pack shipment will come in one of these.

*Styrofoam® is a registered trademark of Dow Chemicals.  Expanded Polystyrene or EPS is generic name this plastic.

Copyright ©2009 Matthew Rochte, Opportunity Sustainability℠ – Share with attribution

Opportunity Sustainability℠ is a Midwest-based sustainability and corporate responsibility consulting firm specializing in green innovation and seeing opportunities where others see burdens. Matthew Rochte LEED AP, an experienced, operations-based sustainability consultant, works with company management to navigate and realize the opportunities in taking their company green and growing sustainably.

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  • Matthew, we solve secondary packaging problems for green minded companies and this temperature sensitive product area is a key target for us in 2010. You are right in that EPS coolers are very difficult to deal with from an eco perspective but they are also very expense on many levels, to companies using them. We are confident most companies will do the right thing for the environment, especially if it reduces their cost in the process.

    I hope you have a great 2010 and keep up the great work.

    Dennis Salazar

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