Despite SunChips flap, green packaging ideas make progress

KFC now testing use of reusable containers for dishing out sides.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Big black eye this week for SunChips, which has pulled its compostable packaging because of consumer complaints over the noise. The whole story has created a great deal of controversy, because some enviro-types have suggested that eco-concerns should have trumped the noise factor. (If you want to hear how loud the bag REALLY is, the NPR story I reference has a sound clip.)

First off, I really commend the PepsiCo division for going out on a limb this way. I believe in the theory that even bad publicity is a great branding exercise. SunChips has certainly received a lot of attention this week. The company is going back to the drawing board, and I'm sure it will come up with something better. What hasn't received as much attention, though, is an experiment by KFC restaurants to test some new packaging for the side dishes that it sells.

Essentially, KFC is now using reusable containers for sides like cole slaw which I am sure was not exactly an inexpensive decision. The packaging is made out of polypropylene, which is a commonly recyclable plastic. The restaurant chain introduced the packages earlier this year and hopes to be offering them nationally by early 2011. By the end of 2010, KFC says it will reduce its foam packaging by 62 percent and its total plastic use by 17 percent.

The technology industry, which used to use notoriously wasteful packaging, also is innovating here as fast as it can. The one taking the most chances, so far, is Dell, which is experimenting with biodegradable (fast-growing) bamboo as a replacement for cardboard, foam and plastic. Furniture maker Steelcase has also been growing its own packaging for certain products, looking to plant-based materials.

According to those I've interview about this topic, the biggest challenge to those using some of these new materials is that existing waste management companies don't know exactly how to deal with them. It's another case of policy lagging innovation.

If you want to see how other companies are innovating with green packaging design, check out this Greener Package awards list.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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