Fox Packaging's Victoria Lopez Discusses Innovative and Sustainable Solutions
MCALLEN, TX - As a trade news writer, words are everything. Not only do they create meaning, but they have the power to communicate messages that will ripple through our language and impact our lives. On the flip side, words have the potential to become oversaturated and therefore lose their meaning entirely. “Sustainability,” according to Victoria Lopez, Marketing at Fox Packaging, is one such word. In particular, our industry relies heavily on the term, but recently we’ve recognized that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to define. Some suggest that we use a different word, but Victoria suggests a more unified approach through circular economies and proactive efforts to educate.
“78 percent of consumers say they are familiar with the term sustainability. Yet only 22 percent of that 78 percent can identify a sustainable product. Only 15 percent can name a sustainable company, according to The Hartman Group’s Sustainability 2019: Beyond Business as Usual report,” she begins. “Marketing-free education is so important because many times the suggested solution actually has a worse carbon footprint, environmental ramifications, or infrastructure shortcomings. Ideally, we should be designing, producing, and promoting based on scientific reality, not simply based on public perception and demand. It's crucial to work together to help consumers dispose of waste and recyclable materials successfully. It’s not necessary that plastic should be villainized, because it serves us in so many different and convenient ways.”
The word “demand” in this sense is very widely used, just like the term sustainability. As an industry we are still trying to figure out and garner our positioning. Companies hear a lot about sustainability, recyclability, composting, and bio-based packaging solutions and alternatives, and as a business, Fox is researching the direction it needs to go for flexible food packaging specific to fresh produce.
“It goes back to demand. Consumers are demanding it, but are not following through in response to that call-to-action. According to a survey, few consumers who report positive attitudes toward eco-friendly products and services follow through with their wallets, 65 percent said they want to buy from purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, yet only about 26 percent actually do, according to Harvard Business Review. There are a lot of companies like Fox who are having these big sustainability discussions and putting substantial dollar signs behind them. And at the end of the day, actionable responsibility falls onto the consumer,” Victoria reflects. “Will these consumers considerably read the How2Recycle® label on the package? With reliable information on hand, will they recycle correctly?”
To encourage better recycling practices, Fox Packaging was proactive in joining the Sustainable Packaging Coalition® (SPC), a membership-based collaborative that believes in the power of industry to make packaging more sustainable. The company also joined the How2Recycle® program, whose mission is to get more materials in the recycling bin by taking the guesswork out of recycling.
“The majority of curbside recycled plastic that makes it to a material recovery facility is still unfortunately landfilled,” Victoria asserts that consumers are doing too much good faith recycling, as in recycling things that are not recyclable due to the materials or the location. In doing so, they contaminate the waste stream, so understanding what different municipalities can process is paramount. "Where we live, I cannot recycle a number four bag curbside, but I can recycle our signature Fresh Mesh products through participating store drop-off programs.”
Some people say sustainability is lightweighting—making the design thinner and using less material. Some people say that sustainability is completely changing the components of the packaging, so using an alternative material like polylactic acid (PLA). But Victoria brings up a fantastic point: Are we going to use our land resources to grow plastics or grow food? Food packaging is being targeted by the sustainability movement right now, but Victoria suggests that food waste is a bigger problem. Because at the end of the day, our industry is supporting communities through increased produce consumption. We're supporting farmers and the labor and energy that was put into growing these commodities. Not only that, but our packaging is helping extend product life cycles. And with food waste rising, we cannot afford to ignore this issue.
“We need to acknowledge how plastic came into the market,” says Victoria, thinking out loud. “It was to combat deforestation, made by captured emissions, diverting harmful gases from our breathing air. Plastic is one of man’s best innovations. It was never supposed to become single-use. But that's what the American lifestyle turned it into.”
Victoria continues, saying, “We need to respect our products and resources. In the U.S., there's less than 100 commercial composting facilities who will accept compostable plastic packaging, but consumers are asking companies to shift to bio or compostable applications. How are they going to be able to differentiate between a bio-based plastic and a conventional plastic? The best way to dispose of compostable plastics is to send them to an industrial or commercial composting facility where they’ll break down with the right mixture of heat, microbes, and time. If this type of composting facility isn’t available in your area, the only other option is to throw them in the trash; even then, it may still end up getting recycled. I can't put this in my compost box even though it says it's compostable because the right properties aren’t present to successfully offer the end-of life solution to a compostable plastic package.”
Working toward a solution to our industry’s sustainability concerns, Fox Packaging has onboarded new team members such as a Business Development Manager who is bringing in corporate ideology and posing strong questions as to the company’s processes and design. Fox also gained a Product Development Manager who has 30 plus years in plastic extrusion.
“Our team has a tremendous sense of urgency and drive toward innovation,” explains Victoria. “We remain informed of what is happening in the marketplace and are dedicated to finding a realistic flexible packaging solution for our customers. By becoming a member of How2Recycle, we are ensuring our customers products stay on the shelf with a label that is included in retailer’s sustainability agenda and set to be on all packaging between 2021 and 2025.”
The bottom line: We as an industry need to collaborate with each other to come up with sustainable solutions and educate consumers. If we continue on in that direction, a more stable definition of “sustainable” might be ahead of us yet.
If you would like to learn more about what Fox Packaging is working on regarding sustainable packaging solutions, visit their website at foxbag.com or email them at [email protected], or Victoria at [email protected].