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Expo West: Laundering Cardboard

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SN technology editor Michael Garry filed this report from the show:

Besides all the great natural and organic food on display here at Expo West, environmentalism is another pervasive theme, as my colleague Bob Vosburgh described in an earlier post. In my role as the moderator of a Saturday session on sustainable packaging, I gained a deeper insight into this side of the show.

During my introduction, I cited as a prime example of sustainable packaging the new laundry detergent bottle unveiled at the show by Seventh Generation, a maker of non-toxic household cleaners (at right).

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The bottle, made by Ecologic Brands, consists of 100% recycled cardboard and newspaper; when empty, the shell can be popped open and recycled with other household paper, and the plastic cap and plastic pouch inside that holds the detergent can go into the nearest plastic recycling bin.

But here's the kicker -- and the tie to Expo West: Seventh Generation will be getting three tons of cardboard waste generated at the show to use in manufacturing new bottles. That sounds like a great deal for Seventh Generation, and a great environmental play by Expo West.

The speakers at the sustainable packaging session also drove home the enviromental message. David Czerwinski, CEO of Vapur, which makes a fold-and-go anywhere reusable water bottle, pointed out some striking facts about his conventional bottled water -- each week, one billion bottles are sold in the U.S., it takes 37,800 trucks to deliver those bottles to stores, and only 23% (at most) of the bottles are recycled. Which makes for up to 1.5 billion tons of plastic waste per year.

The other speaker, Katherine O'Dea, a senior fellow at GreenBlue, gave a great rundown on what sustainable packaging really means and how manufacturers can incorporate more post-consumer-recycled content in their packaging.

The bad news here is there's still a lot of packaging waste. But the good news is that this seems to be one environmental problem for which there are many innovative solutions -- and more being created all the time.

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