Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products

Attractive and durable packaging is one thing; green packaging is quite another. The best companies have both. Learn about green packaging and see the best and worst of what the Outdoor Industry has to offer.

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by Nicole Chilton and Ryan Jordan | 2008-03-26 00:01:00-06

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RETAIL PRODUCT PACKAGING IN THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY - THE BEST AND...NOT SO BEST.  Attractive and durable packaging is one thing; green packaging is quite another. The best companies have both. View the gallery by clicking on a thumbnail to see our votes for the best and worst of what the Outdoor Industry has to offer.

 

retail-packaging-chilton - 1
THUMBS DOWN! ICEBREAKER MERINO. While the product may be green, the box certainly isn’t. Each garment is housed in a shallow box that slips into another and is covered from end to end with ink. As one Icebreaker sales rep at the 2008 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market put it, “An expensive product demands an expensive package.” Really? Although the attractive packaging may have won design awards from others, it certainly gets a low mark from us.

retail-packaging-chilton - 2
THUMBS DOWN! PLATYPUS WATER SYSTEMS. The amount of packaging that goes into delivering this product outweighs the product itself. While these hard plastic, materials-intensive packaging systems (called “blister packs”) have lightened up in recent years, using less plastic in the construction, the use is still as prevalent as ever. Though this type of packaging is recyclable, plastic recycling is limited in many communities, making its likely destination the closest trash can.

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THUMBS DOWN! DALE NORWAY THERMALS. Cardboard, heavy inks, and Velcro go into this single use, single garment, non-reusable container. The sturdy construction of the packaging - a product in and of itself - makes us wonder whatever happened to ... hangers?

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THUMBS DOWN! SIGG FLASKS. The hard, semi-opaque plastic boxes that hold the flask also have spacers and plastic wrapping on the inside. The beauty of the bottle is thus completely hidden from the consumer. The box collapses easily and is somewhat awkward, making reusing it before recycling it difficult and unlikely. The company plans to rework the packaging of the flask, and we look forward to seeing what they come up with. (Sigg redeems itself by landing a product on our Thumbs Up! list as well.)

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THUMBS DOWN! CAMELBAK WATER SYSTEMS. Hard plastic and cardboard? Seems like a lot of packaging for a pretty minimalist product. We'll concede that soft water bottles need some type of protection to prevent damage in transit, but isn’t there a better way?

retail-packaging-chilton - 6
THUMBS DOWN! BRUNTON BLISTER PACK. Again with the hard plastic. According to some retailers, blister packs are sometimes the only way to package and sell a product in the store without damaging it...which we find disingenuous. These products are made to be taken into the wilderness and heartily used, so if normal in-store handling results in product damage, perhaps its wilderness utility should be questioned. The reality is this: Commodity accessories, like the ones sold by Brunton and dozens of others, are distinguished primarily by a company's ability to market them, especially as we see an increasing number of brands using the same factories for manufacturing commodity products that are becoming increasingly homogenized.  Marketing is one of the few ways they have to differentiate themselves.

retail-packaging-chilton - 7
THUMBS DOWN! CAMELBAK WATER BOTTLES. We couldn't resist the temptation to include one company twice on our Thumbs Down! list. Shrink wrapped Lexan bottles? Say it isn’t so! In addition to the shrink wrap, you also get two stickers and a nifty little metal chain connected to the multi-page, glossy, catalog-style tag. Other Lexan bottle companies don’t shrink wrap their products. Nalgene, the most recognizable manufacturer of Lexan bottles, utilizes a single sticker and hangs the bottle in the store by the funky little lid-leash.

retail-packaging-chilton - 8
THUMBS DOWN! OUTDOOR RESEARCH - AND JUST ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE - CATALOG TAGS. Paper, plastic and ink intensive, these tags are (sadly) the norm in the outdoor industry when purchasing higher-end technical gear and apparel. This sample from Outdoor Research is representative of many brands. The multi-page tag tells you everything and more about the product, which some consumers like. However, the same information can be found on their websites, in their (big) printed catalogs, and in the millions of printed catalogs from their different retailers. In addition, not all catalog tags are made with recycled paper, soy inks or can even be recycled at all. If you have to use them to sell your product, an eye towards something smaller, or at least recyclable, will score a few more points with us.

retail-packaging-chilton - 9
THUMBS UP! PATAGONIA THERMALS. Top of the list is the most innovative packaging we’ve seen so far: Two rubber bands and a piece of 100% post-consumer, 100% recyclable tag delivers this product to the consumer. While we do realize that rubber bands aren’t entirely eco-friendly, they are certainly reusable and a better alternative to any other materials-intensive thermal underwear packaging we’ve seen.

retail-packaging-chilton - 10
THUMBS UP! PATAGONIA FOOTWEAR. While reusing shoeboxes to store odds and ends around the house isn’t a new concept, having a good looking one that you’ll want to display is. Unfold the box and re-fold it inside out to find attractive modern designs for adults and fun animal designs for kids. 100% post-consumer materials and soy inks make this box 100% recyclable. Even the additional spacers and paper that come with the shoes are recyclable.

retail-packaging-chilton - 11
THUMBS UP! TEKO SOCKS. When this company decided to use greener, smaller packaging, they also found that they could ship more socks in the same amount of space and stock more product in retail stores. A simple 100% post-consumer, 100% recyclable tag printed with soy inks tells you everything you need to know about their organic socks, while delivering even more information on the company's green ethics. Very slick.

retail-packaging-chilton - 12
THUMBS UP! SIGG WATER BOTTLES. Redemption! The simple - dare we say artistic? - design of a Sigg bottle screams to be allowed to sell itself to consumers without heavy tags, boxes, or packing. The only drawback is that the sticker, which is hidden on the bottom of the bottle, unfolds to reveal a multi-page tag. The company is looking to further reduce this one piece of packaging to a smaller, simpler sticker in the future, making the packaging for this product almost completely non-existent.

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THUMBS UP! TIMBUK2 BAGS. One piece of recyclable plastic is used to hang these bags from displays in stores, in addition to the tags. The one square inch tags are recyclable and allow consumers to pick up, handle, and even try on the bags prior to purchase. Thankfully, this type of packaging is typical on what is often our heaviest pieces of gear: backpacks, sleeping bags, and sleeping mats - so long as the manufacturers do not succumb to the temptation to attach mini-catalogs to each product.

retail-packaging-chilton - 14
THUMBS UP! KEEN FOOTWEAR. When Keen first came onto the market, their shoeboxes were made of heavy black cardboard and filled with spacers and plastics. Now the popular company has done a complete turn-around with their lighter, 100% post-consumer, 100% recyclable, soy inked box that even uses water-based, non-toxic glues to hold it together. The lighter weight of the box means less fuel consumption to ship the products. Responsible, attractive, and practical (nicely reusable, for a shoebox), Keen gets noticed.

retail-packaging-chilton - 15
THUMBS UP! BULK PACKAGING. Yes, it is possible to sell some products in bulk. Tent stakes? Rope? Bolts? These things do not need their very own plastic and cardboard containers. You can find some of the necessary backcountry bits and pieces being sold out of large bins and containers, depending on the retailer. Check with your local retailer to see what they offer, as manufacturers are unlikely to offer bulk packaging to the end consumer.

Introduction

Going light can be addictive.

You start by slowly reducing your gear and redefining what you truly need for backpacking. The extra miles, happy knees and ankles, and more enjoyable trips feel great, so you dive in deeper. You make lists, buy a scale, and start bugging sales clerks about the weight of each piece of new gear. You even start making your own “adjustments” to your gear - a little snip here, a small hack there.

Then, before you know it, you start lightening the load in other areas of your life.

You pitch belongings out of your car, purse, briefcase, desk and gym bag, all too happy to throw out those excess ounces and grams...until you go after your kid’s school backpack with a pair of scissors, and your spouse jumps in to tell you to take a break from the lightweight thing.

But what’s so wrong with taking lightweight principles into mainstream everyday life? At Backpacking Light, we are happily preoccupied with how to make things lighter, stronger, and better for backpackers and the planet. It is a daily obsession that easily grabs our attention no matter where we are. So, when outdoor industry companies started reducing the weight of their retail packaging, and looking for ways to leave less of an impact on the planet, we took notice.

Trends Toward (and Away From) Greener Waste

At Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2008, it was nearly impossible to find a company that wasn’t on the “better and lighter” packaging bandwagon. Whether it was reduced packaging, eco-friendly soy inks, 100% post-consumer paper, or even reusable bags and boxes, nearly every exhibitor there was doing something to reduce their impact, and subsequently, their own costs.

Some claim that one-third the volume of America’s solid waste is retail packaging, so this trend toward lightening up shouldn't be a surprise, especially in the outdoor industry, where eco-consciousness reflects not only good stewardship, but also intelligent and trendy marketing.

Being green is a central tenant when marketing to a demographic that is, by and large, focused on and concerned about the environment. What these particular consumers do and buy in order to visit the wild places they love may impact how long those places will exist.

From a marketing standpoint, having greener, more eco-friendly products and packaging caters to the beliefs and practices of the consumers who are a part of the ever-growing $33 billion dollar industry for outdoor recreation consumer goods. To ignore the concerns and beliefs of a consumer base is normally considered bad business.

However, not all companies are reducing their packaging or switching to greener packaging materials.

For example, the increasing use of miniature catalog-style tags that promote not only the product to which they are attached, but also other products offered by the company, reflects a significant shift in product tagging practice from “product support and information” to “catalog marketing.” Such “catalog” tags adorn garments, sleeping bags, backpacks, and are even tucked into shoe boxes.

Other companies continue to over-package their products, such as encasing durable Lexan bottles in shrink-wrap under the pretext that it is for sanitary reasons, while other Lexan bottle companies use only one or two stickers. Even still, some companies produce a product that is green, then sell it to consumers in packaging that isn’t eco-friendly. Worse yet, companies who recognize the changing, greener landscape of the outdoor retail market are producing packaging that looks green while selling a product that certainly is not.

The Hidden Agenda of Green Packaging

However, so-called "green packaging" is not just about serving a more eco-conscious customer base. If a company reduces packaging, it also reduces costs, making going green a money-saving operation. Retail giant Wal-Mart is projected to save $3.4 billion dollars in five years after reducing their overall packaging costs by only five percent. Numbers like these make other manufacturers and distributors take notice, and a trend of packaging reduction can be found in all major retail industries throughout the first world.

Legislating Green Packaging

In 1991, Germany enacted the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law,  which held the manufacturer responsible for the disposal of all of its products' retail packaging. A first of its kind, the law stated that upon purchase, a consumer could give the packaging back to the retailer, who in turn would return it to the manufacturer for reuse or recycling. This law developed into what is known as the Green Dot, part of a non-profit that collects, separates and recycles the packaging through a curbside recycling program. Through this system, the manufacturers take responsibility for the disposal of their packaging without having to involve the retailer. In its first four years, overall packaging in Germany decreased by seven percent.

Three years after the inception of the EPR law in Germany, the European Union (EU) enacted similar laws aimed at reducing packaging. Canada, Australia and most of South America have also established EPR laws. Asian countries, including South Korea, China and Taiwan have also adopted EPR laws and have taken steps to reduce their overall packaging beyond producer responsibility. Most recently, China has banned the use of lightweight, white plastic grocery bags nationwide, calling this particular kind of waste “white pollution.” At the time the ban was put into effect in June 2007, the Chinese plastic bag habit was up to three billion bags per day. In the United States, the first city to ban plastic grocery bags was San Francisco, with American stores, such as the grocery chain Whole Foods, banning the bags as well.

However (perhaps unsurprisingly), as the world's most demanding consumer of packaged retail goods (and perhaps, the greatest sucker for what is printed on that packaging), the United States has yet to adopt EPR standards or legislation.

Defining Green Packaging

So, what does it mean to have a better, or greener, retail package? (While a marketing company might believe that "better retail package" means a package that moves more product or increases brand awareness, we are using "better" in regards to a package's environmental impact - a less-is-more approach.)

How can a company create a package that costs them less to produce and ship, while at the same time being better for the environment? For some companies, being green means reducing the overall weight of the package, thereby reducing their transportation costs (e.g., the amount of fuel used to deliver goods to consumers). For others, a green retail package means using more post-consumer materials in packaging, then ensuring the finished packaging product is recyclable as well. Some companies are focusing their efforts on making a retail package that can be reused by the consumer before it is recycled, allowing for a longer life for the materials.

Reduced Packaging

The widespread move to more environmentally conscious packaging in the outdoor industry has been well received by both consumers and retailers.

Outdoor apparel giant Patagonia has introduced the minimalist “sushi roll” concept for packaging its base layer apparel. The underwear is rolled into a tight, cylindrical form, which is then bound by two rubber bands and accompanied with one, post-consumer based, 100% recyclable cardboard tag. Previously, the thermals had been sold in plastic bags that cost about twenty cents per unit to produce. After switching to the sushi roll, the packing cost fell to six cents per unit, and sales went up. Eco-conscious Patagonia customers still recognized the product (a key factor in most packaging is brand awareness), and they liked that they could touch the product prior to purchase.

Swedish-based bottle company Sigg is another example of the minimalist packaging that is possible when a product uses nothing more than a price tag and the mandatory information set forth by the country in which it is sold. A multi-paged accordion-style sticker and occasionally a tag are the only packaging needed for the company's water bottle. Add to that a variety of colorful designs that take the place of a fancy box, and you have one of the most minimalist yet functional retail presentations on the shelf. In-store displays for the bottles hang them in neat rows, allowing customers to both see and handle the product. According to Robert Rheaume, VP of Sales and Field Marketing for Sigg USA, plans are underway to further reduce their packaging by converting to a single sticker.

Reduced packaging adheres to the monetary and sustainability benefits of going lighter, relying on the product to sell itself on its apparent merits, rather than on a manufacturer telling the consumer what the product's merits might be.

Recyclable Packaging

For companies whose products require more packaging to protect the product prior to consumer purchase, using greener, more sustainable materials is another green packaging strategy.

The shoe company Keen and the sock company Teko both use 100% post-consumer paper in their packaging, which is also 100% recyclable. Soy and vegetable inks are used to print minimalist labels, a stark contrast to the multi-page mini-catalogs that are becoming increasingly popular with other shoe and sock manufacturers. In 2008, Teko's recycling and reduction efforts cut their total packaging by forty-five percent.

Reusable Packaging

While the idea of “reduce - reuse - recycle” is not a new concept, the practice of reusing as much as possible before recycling is becoming a popular trend (the fewer times a piece of cardboard is recycled, the less energy is consumed by the act of recycling alone).

Shoeboxes, for example...most of us, at one time or another, have used an old shoebox to store photographs, baseball cards, vacation souvenirs, or seashell collections. Shoebox storage aficionados complement their reuse habit by adding décor to their shoeboxes: wrapping paper rescued from old presents, scraps cut from the pages of old magazines, or even leftover house paint.

In fact, reappropriating old shoeboxes in American society is so popular that it has spawned an entirely new (and ironic) industry in the past two decades: decorative shoeboxes, sold empty.

Patagonia Footwear is currently selling its shoes in a shoebox that is designed to be reused after the consumer purchases the product. The box, which is made entirely of post-consumer materials and is 100% recyclable, can easily refolded inside out to reveal a trendy and attractive design. Patagonia Footwear's children's shoes are have animal designs on the inside that a child can color and decorate.

Patagonia remains committed to exploring responsible packaging technologies by setting the goal to have zero packaging for its footwear. Skeptics have said it cannot be done, as they said when the idea of the thermal sushi roll was first introduced, but the company remains diligent in its efforts.

Messenger bag company Timbuk2 is also using packaging that is meant to be reused. When a bag is purchased online, it arrives in a recyclable plastic bag, as opposed to a traditional cardboard box. The company’s bags, which are well known for their durability, require no protective packaging - the plastic bag is all that is needed to protect the product during shipping. Once the bag arrives, the consumer can cut out one side of the shipping bag to find a waterproof bike map of the San Francisco area. The remnants of the packaging can then be recycled. While a neat idea, we question how many of Timbuk2's customers actually need a bike map of San Francisco. So, while the idea is innovative enough, it may lack the widespread appeal required for mass incentive to reuse packaging.

Conclusion

Providing packaging that has been recycled typically costs more for the manufacturer than packaging made with virgin material. In addition, offering recyclable packaging puts most of the burden to be green on the consumer and essentially absolves the manufacturer of any responsibility for their packaging waste.

The use of reusable packaging (e.g., boxes and bags) also puts the burden of responsibility on the end user, who can as easily toss the packaging in the dumpster as find a useful purpose for it later. Reusable packaging may be a more viable long term option than recycled packaging for slowing the filling of waste dumps, and it is certainly consistent with the lightweight philosophy of using items that can serve multiple functions.

However, the real appeal of green packaging lies in the reduction, even elimination, of packaging altogether.

Reducing packaging leads to lower fuel costs and resource use and costs less for the packager. However, it comes at the risk of having less materials available for marketing the company and its products. Consequently, the manufacturers that will be most successful at reducing their packaging will be those that offer the finest products that easily sell themselves based on their readily-apparent merits, or as often as not, their perceived merits based on the reputation of the company.

For the lightweight backpacker who adheres to the core tenet of our philosophy - doing more with less - purchasing products with reduced packaging is an attractive option as we continue to evaluate our answers to the question “How green can waste be?”


Citation

"Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products," by Nicole Chilton and Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/retail_packaging_chilton.html, 2008-03-26 00:01:00-06.

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Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products on 03/26/2008 01:14:18 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products

Charles Reneau
(charley289) - F

Locale: Cascades and Oregon Coast Range
Nicely done on 03/26/2008 08:24:52 MDT Print View

Great article, really liked the pics. Gear and environment are two subjects dear to my heart!
Charley

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Green Waste? on 03/26/2008 09:23:20 MDT Print View

I certainly agree with the spirit of the article, and reducing packaging makes more and more sense to businesses from a economic and environmental standpoint as gas/diesel prices (and thus shipping costs) rise to record levels. However, I fear that some of the ubiquitous blister packs have to do with reducing shoplifting of small items. Ever notice how they are all about the same minumum size, regardless of the size of the product? Ever notice that the more expensive the item, the harder it is to remove from its package?

Kevin Lane
(KEVINLANE) - F
Taking It Home on 03/26/2008 12:05:06 MDT Print View

Great job, but may I suggest we go one further. Many of the items mentioned in the article cannot just be recycled, but composted as well. If anyone has an interest in either reducing their carbon footprint or perhaps creating a more naturally fertile soil for their gardens, shrubs, lawns, etc., then look into the different ways to compost. Check out Bokashi and vermicomposting for year round indoor efforts! ALmost all kitchen waste can be put in there. I bet if you also start a compost pile the amount of trash will be 1/3 to 1/6 of that which you previously had. You will be shocked at how much non recyclable paper and cardboard turns into black gold

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products on 03/26/2008 12:14:39 MDT Print View

Ok...but how about we look a bit farther out?

Platy products? Made in the US and not shipped from China. So less waste in the end than shoes shipped here from there in paper boxes.

The shrink wrapping of the Camelbak bottles causes less waste in the end - it keep the bottles from being 'shop worn' and returned. They don't get scratched up and covered in fingerprints.

Same with any excessive packaging! It does serve a purpose in the end. It serves to protect the gear from getting nasty and as well, getting stolen. Makes it easy to display.

But here is something? Those Sigg bottles? They still come in packaging! They most likely came in a huge, very thick cardboard box with inserts and did they come in plastic bags as well?

I guess my thoughts are this....from having worked where I pack items for the past 4 years you start realizing packaging does serve a purpose.

For instance I wrap my books in a plastic bag. Overkill? Maybe. But in a recent case a lady ordered a book and I shipped. Her mail was dropped off, the carrier left the door down. All of her mail was soaked - but the book was in new shape inside the soaked envelope. She was SO happy over that. What it did do was make it so I didn't have to ship another package. That save money and packaging. And fuel for shipping. I'd rather wrap an item in a bag or in bubble wrap than have it wrecked. Customers expect a product to be NEW LOOKING when they get it!

So what can we do? Buy items made in the US. Recycle. Buy packaging made in the US (I do as well!).

Just remember....just because the packaging appears eco-friendly it doesn't mean the item inside is! If your underwear was sewn in Vietnam you paid for the diesel to have it shipped here in a cargo bin!

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
One more nitpick on 03/26/2008 12:20:24 MDT Print View

Those Sigg water bottles? Look at the rack they are hanging from. Now tell me that rack is not made JUST for them! That in its self is wasteful!

Keith Hultman
(helios) - F

Locale: Missouri
Re: One more nitpick on 03/26/2008 12:39:24 MDT Print View

The Sigg rack is reusable for years. If they ship only one rack per store, that seems like a good use of resources.

Furthermore, I thought the camelback bottle shrink wrap is good minimalist packaging. When you buy a bottle with a straw, don't you want something like the tamper proof packaging in water/soda bottles? Comparisons to wide mouth nalgenes are unfair, since they are easier to clean.

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products on 03/26/2008 12:57:10 MDT Print View

"Just remember....just because the packaging appears eco-friendly it doesn't mean the item inside is! If your underwear was sewn in Vietnam you paid for the diesel to have it shipped here in a cargo bin!"

Are you suggesting a boycott of Smartwool in the US? As I recall, their merino wool is from New Zealand. They have eco-friendly packaging too!

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re:Imported clothes on 03/26/2008 17:50:09 MDT Print View

Christopher, if you haven't tried them,Fox River is making great socks in a collection, Good Earth. Most are made free of oil, from corn. The ones that are not are organic wool. Awesome socks, made in the US and minimal packaging. And priced reasonably.
http://www.foxsox.com/Categories/goodearth.aspx

Edited by sarbar on 03/26/2008 17:52:16 MDT.

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
fox river? on 03/27/2008 05:52:09 MDT Print View

I am not familiar with the name, but am a big fan of Smartwool. I'll check out Fox River socks in the near future.
Thanks for the tip.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Green Waste? on 03/27/2008 08:35:11 MDT Print View

Thanks for this important article. I worked in advertising for over a decade, and lemme tell you, beyond the overt waste, that highly art directed 4-color packaging is EXPENSIVE, and it's passed onto the purchase price.

Patagonia has nice packaging, but they also mail out a LOT of full color catalogs. Yes, they are printed on recycled paper, but there is a LOT of energy used to design, print and ship those slick marketing tools. In my opinion - it's TOO much.

Two more "thumbs down" are Black Diamond & Metolious (climbing equipment), they both use horrendously excessive packaging. It's awful!

There should be a well publicized petition (maybe created by BPL) for the next series of outdoor retailer events. It's pathetic.

Howa 'bout BPL create a teeny-weenie sticker (or hang tag, or logo - or something) that praises the packaging on a product. That way, a company (example: TEKO socks) could have a positive bit of praise, and the consumer could be educated - and BPL could get others to see the error of their ways. You look at some socks in a store, and the TEKO socks have a little "BPL approved" notice on 'em. Maybe the concerned consumer would choose those socks over another brand?

peace,
M!

Brian Doble
(brian79) - MLife

Locale: New England
Awesome Article on 03/27/2008 10:31:02 MDT Print View

I'm glad you're tackling this issue! I hope there are more environmental articles like this one in the future.

One recent problem I've found with hiker waste is that whenever I order gear from a particular website, they send me a huge catalog with my order. Obviously, I found the gear I wanted online, so why do I need a hard copy of their site? OK, so it's advertising, but lightweight dealers need to differentiate themselves from other companies.

Also, I wonder how environmentally friendly the recycling process is. (I hope this post doesn't seem off the subject!)

Edited by brian79 on 03/27/2008 10:33:45 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
More thoughts on 03/27/2008 11:23:42 MDT Print View

One thing we can do is to contact the companies and ask them about their packaging. Obviously if the items are imported they are more likely to have heavier, thicker packaging due to the production/shipping. You can also contact them and ask politely to not receive catalogs and if they do put them in packages, petition them to not.

More thoughts: there are many, many books on the outdoors out there - it is shocking how many are NOT printed in the US. There is one well known publishing house in California that prints their books in China. That puzzles me...there are so many good printers in the Midwest that are just as cheap and by doing it in the US we support American workers, American paper mills and use less fuel to ship the items. So, take a look inside the books you buy and if not printed here, ask why they are not. Email them! Call them!

And as always, support US made gear if it works for you - as local as you can :-)

Megan Perkins
(Backbone) - F
re: Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products on 03/27/2008 13:15:05 MDT Print View

We respect BackpackingLight as an unbiased source for product and industry reviews, however were very disappointed at the lack of research used for this article.
Why were we not contacted or better yet, why were dealers or packaging manufacturers not included in this research?
While the subject of the packaging article was on point, I believe there should have been a little more research done into the specifics. There are reasons for every decision.

There are varying levels of "blister pack" packaging... Brunton packaging is made with 100% Recyclable P.E.T. Packaging (Polyethylene Terephthalate) (http://wasteage.com/mag/waste_polyethylene_terephthalate_4/).
We were ahead of the curve in this transition as we moved all our packaging over to this type of "plastic" three years ago before it was even being asked for or required by dealers.

Our ability to decrease the amount of packaging we use across the board is always a topic of conversation among our designers and product developers.
We are also involved in major packaging initiatives for 2009-2010.

In regard to your statement, "These products are made to be taken into the wilderness and heartily used, so if normal in-store handling results in product damage, perhaps its wilderness utility should be questioned. The reality is this: Commodity accessories, like the ones sold by Brunton and dozens of others, are distinguished primarily by a company's ability to market them, especially as we see an increasing number of brands using the same factories for manufacturing commodity products that are becoming increasingly homogenized. Marketing is one of the few ways they have to differentiate themselves."

You are correct about our concern as manufacturers to have our product taken care of from the time it leaves our warehouse until it reaches their peg. Our dealers expect to receive products without scratches or blemishes so that they can be sold in their stores.
Moreover, dealers require us to implement security measures for our products. You see this in every retailer in our categories because we are all required to provide packaging that ensures the least amount of shrink.
When you say "commodity accessories" you are speaking mostly about hard goods vs. soft goods. Hard goods manufacturers have different requirements for packaging.
What you may not realize, or at least did not note in your review, is that most products that are not displayed in packaging (most shirts, jackets, water bottles, etc.) are shipped to retail packaged individually in plastic bags or boxes. The retailers are required to remove that packaging before it is displayed. The "Thumbs up" companies you highlight have different packaging requirements placed upon them from dealers. We applaud their ability to use more sustainable packaging and encourage all of them to continue to move this direction.

Understanding the requirements placed upon the manufacturers is critical when pointing out any downfalls they might have. I hope in the future more research could be done up front. If our packaging or products don't measure up to someone else's, we can accept that criticism, as long as the facts are in order and presented fairly.

Thanks,

Jason Kintzler | Senior Communications Manager | Brunton

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Blister Packs on 03/30/2008 14:52:43 MDT Print View

I know where you are coming from about needing to meet the demands of retailers, and you have my sympathies. I don't, however, buy the argument that this requires blister packages. Is there any reason a compass or a GPS can't be put in a small (recycled) cardboard box with cardboard or paper inserts, like the Patagonia shoe boxes? I've bought all kinds of electronics that were packaged solely in cardboard, for example.

I agree, the big benefit of blisters is marketing and anti-shoplifting. And, I certainly have NEVER met a CONSUMER who liked cutting products out of those horrible blister packages. It practically takes a chainsaw or orbital sander.

I understand that the plastic blisters are recyclable, but I also understand Nicole's and Ryan's point that most municipalities do not have readily accessible plastics recycling. It is also a pain to separate the plastic from the cardboard inserts in the blister packs, so many less-dedicated people don't bother and just toss the whole thing in the trash. I know that I personally find it annoying when a company makes it that hard for me to recycle, for no reason.

On the other hand, you can recycle paper very easily almost anywhere.

Kudos to your company for thinking about things like this, but I remain anti-blister.

Edited by acrosome on 03/30/2008 15:01:55 MDT.

John Smith
(jcar3305) - F

Locale: East of Cascades
Green Waste - A Retailers View Point on 03/30/2008 17:19:49 MDT Print View

Ryan et al,

I appreciated your article but felt that more insight could be made into why retailers ask for such packaging. While I am not an outdoor product retailer the same philosophy applies. Cost. When we display products we want our customers to look at it, to pick it up and get a feel for it. However we do not want to do that and then have to clean it after each use so we ask for clear blister packages. This saves cleaning supplies and labor. We also do not want to lock it behind a counter if possible because that reduces the impulse sales we might otherwise get. Please remember we are in business to make money and support our families along with those of our employees. So we want the products out and available to the hands of our consumers. Finally the packaging needs to be large enough to discourage shoplifting. Manufacturers resisted for years the need for larger packaging that discouraged shoplifting. After all they were paid by the retailer whether the product was sold or stolen. Companies now are often paid on items that sold through the register (referred to as scan based trading). So now it is in the interest of such companies to assist in marketing products to tempt impulse sales and reduce shrinkage through theft and/or damage. I am more than happy to display products in whatever manner my customers find appealing but damage and theft will result in higher prices or I will go out of business.

Organized Retail Theft (ORT) is a serious problem and affects retailers to the tune of about $30 to $37 billion per year as of 2007 (up from $25 billion in 2005). www.fbi.gov/page2/april07/retail040607.htm

Shoplifting estimates range from $9.5 to $11 billion per year in 2006. www.catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/20.90.html

Please note ORT and shoplifting are different although the effect on consumers is essentially the same. They raise prices. So taking into account ORT's and shoplifting's lowest estimates consumers are paying an estimated $39.5 billion more than they would have if no theft occurred.

This is not a simple problem and while I support the need to go green I also question the lack of a multi-pronged article examining the reasons behind decisions made by manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment,

John the xcrazyalaskanrunner

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: re: Green Waste? Trends in Retail Packaging for Outdoor Industry Products on 03/30/2008 17:29:03 MDT Print View

I have worked for a large polyester manufacturer and currently work for a large food company, looking at packaging. While using 100% receclyable PET is step in the right direction, there are a few points to consider.

- PET bottles (not clamshells, trays or cups) are only recycled at a ~24% rate. The folks on most reclamation centers only have time to sort our with a few basic guidelines, while trying to toss out contamination. Only easily recognizable PET (soda, water) bottles typically make it through. Other PET articles or colored PET bottles are considered contamination and are tossed (except green PET sometimes that could go into a separate stream, depending on the location).
- I hope that the recycling rate for PET and other resins increase, but that means that the system and consumers have to change.
- Since the recycling rate is so low, and even if it got higher it still takes energy to recycle, so the best thing is to reduce, reduce, reduce. If consumers accept (prefer) it, the product can make it through the distribution system undamaged, and there is enough shelf distinction, then reduction makes sense both from a sustainability and productivity point of view.
- Biobased polymers (e.g., PLA, starch, etc.) are not recycled at all (at this time), but the industry is relatively new, so that needs to be taken into account and some tolerance accepted.
- Manufacturers will do what consumers want. That doesn't mean that they want to lose margin, so either consumers have to pay more or it has to be legislated (still higher cost).
- If consumers don't buy the final package, then companies will do what they can to get their message out and their product noticed.

Tom

Edited by TomClark on 03/31/2008 06:24:28 MDT.

Nicole Chilton
(nicole) - F
Innovation on 04/02/2008 19:14:38 MDT Print View

Thank you for all of your thoughtful responses, insights and questions regarding the Green Waste article. One of the cornerstones of Backpacking Light is the continuous dialog with readers both on the website and otherwise. Your thoughts are instrumental to what we do and we thank you for your input and encourage more.

One of the major themes at Backpacking Light is innovation. How do you do more with less? How do you make it lighter, better for you and better for the planet? Finding ways to hold true to these driving factors of lighter and less is a big part of what we are all about. When the subject of lessening packaging waste came up in our office, of course we were interested. Specific to the outdoor world, companies have already been working for years to reduce their packaging waste and cost by using less materials, better materials, or in the case of some, hardly any materials at all. And while this is something that has been going on for a number of years in the industry, it is still relatively new. Innovation into how to package with less is what caught our eye. And those companies who still choose to use a great deal of packaging also got our attention. In an effort to give an accurate sampling of current packaging methods we offered just that—a sampling of packaging systems and styles.

However, in the resulting posts that have been generated since this article was published there have been what seems like a lot of the “yes, but” clauses. Yes, Patagonia is one of the front-runners when reducing their retail packaging, but they also send out catalogs. Yes, Sigg bottles have almost no retail packaging, but they still ship their products in boxes. Yes, Brunton uses blister packaging, but they use post-consumer PET to do it. Yes, bio-based polymers are biodegradable, but are faced with bias and cannot be recycled. Yes, excessive packaging and blister packs for smaller products may alienate the consumer from the product, but it might reduce theft.

The “yes, but” clauses serve as proof that both consumers and manufactures are already looking at other aspects of being green regarding everything from fuel consumption, paper consumption and chemical use while at the same time being sensitive to the needs of the manufacturer, retailer and consumer. These are great points to make. These topics get all parties involved in thinking about the impact that these products have on the world we live in. And it is this type of dialog and thought that generates innovation that will create packaging that is better for the consumer, manufacturer and the planet.

However, the fact remains that packaging makes up about a third of the gross weight of American’s municipal solid waste. The standard PET plastic water bottle, the same plastic that is used in blister packaging, takes over 1,000 years to decompose. We can do better than this. And while no company is perfect, most are at the very least stepping up, finding new ways to do what they do even better.

This innovation, this type of dialog, and these types of challenges are what drive us at Backpacking Light. We continue to welcome your input and feedback.

Edited by nicole on 04/02/2008 19:17:58 MDT.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Green Waste - A Retailers View Point on 04/10/2008 13:51:13 MDT Print View

>>> Organized Retail Theft affects retailers to the tune of about $30 to $37 billion

Shoplifting estimates range from $9.5 to $11 billion per year <<<

It looks like the protective packaging is not working. So find a better way.

It is interesting how retailers penalize the 90%, honest shoppers, because of the 10%, thieves. How much is spent on the prevention of thief versus the discouraged purchases? The retail industry needs to find a better way.

John Smith
(jcar3305) - F

Locale: East of Cascades
Retail industry trying to find a better way on 04/13/2008 23:31:21 MDT Print View

The honest in any society will always pay the price for the dishonest. We pay for this through taxes (prisons and the legal system) higher prices as businesses are unwilling to close their doors due to the dishonest and through inconvenience such as not being able to meet friends and family at airport gates any longer.

I have worked in the retail industry for almost 25 years and have seen enormous changes in regards to theft. My time has been in the grocery industry and within that field there have been significant alterations designed to deal with theft.

3 recent examples:

1) Razors are now commonly locked behind single access units. These are difficult to get more than one package out of. However, this is in part to this being a hihg target area for organized retail theft. I personally have had one theft in recent months where someone in less than 2 minutes stole over $900 of razors. The consumer ultimately pays for that.

2) Sudafed and other similar products are now in many areas of the country only available behind the counter of pharmacies or behind customer service counters. The retail industry did not fight terribly hard to keep this from happening (even though it adds expense to selling the product) because in many areas it was not all that uncommon to have an over 50% theft rate on products used to make methamphetamines. And after all the extra cost of administering the program is just passed on to the consumer.

3) Powdered baby formula with prices of upwards of $27 per can are a huge item. The most likely targets are the brands tha tare specified by the US federal program, Women, Infants and Children (WIC). These items are targeted since by specifying specific items only they create an un-natural market for only those 2 or three items and those utilizing the WIC program have no choice except to purchase those. Any market can sell them and the checks are guaranteed. So if a market manager can purchase a $26 can of WIC approved formula for $10 then they will make a $16 profit. This is especially critical since almost every retailer sells infant formula at or slightly below cost from the manufacturer. So now retailers are creating new racks for a slow method of removing baby formula from their shelves to slow down would be thieves. In my store I have placed the products below the check stand counter so that they are available for customers but not readily available for thieves. However, this costs extra money that in the end will be passed on to all consumers.

There is not easy solution. In every way that I have heard of in the last 25 years to reduce theft there is always an added cost that will be passed on. It may not be fair but for a business to exist especially in the razor thin profits of retail-grocery (1.5 to 1.75%) the cost will be passed on.

john the xcrazyalaskanrunner