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Environmental connections to public health >>

Big-box muscles push for greener packaging

Monday, August 6, 2007

When a retailer with $60 billion in annual sales says jump, manufacturers ask how high, and in this case that's great news for the environment.

An initiative by Target to persuade its private-label packaging companies to eliminate excess packaging has resulted in more sensible packaging for more than 500 products so far, and Director of Packaging John Butcher implies that we can expect the process to continue. Wal-Mart has instituted a similar program, vowing to eliminate all private-label PVC packaging by 2009.

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is of particular importance to us here at Enviroblog, since the perennial plastic packaging favorite contains vinyl chloride (classified by the EPA as a human carcinogen) and phthalates (which are linked to hormone disruption). And, as Izzy points out,

"so much of that stuff we use comes ONLY in plastic, regardless of the brand. And while makers claim this plastic or that plastic is safe, I've heard that too many times only to find out later that it's not safe at all."

Critics call it greenwashing, and certainly the move to minimize packaging makes good business sense for the retailers -- it will not only improve their image with environmentally-conscious consumers, but reduce shipping costs and increase shelf-space at retail outlets. But short of a massive consumer movement to eliminate excess packaging (which, unfortunately, still seems far-fetched), requests from big-box retailers are the most effective way to influence manufacturers.

So good for Target and Wal-Mart for using their considerable economic muscle for the greater good. Hopefully positive consumer response will make it profitable for them to move on to even bigger environmental initiatives.

 

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