If you’ve been a fan of our blog posts so far, you might have noticed we’re pretty critical of plastics waste. Given that we’re a company that uses plastic in our void fill products, it could seem a little strange to speak up against a material that we, too, are guilty of using. That being said, we’d like to take the time to clarify our stance on industrial plastics use and how we seek to continue our tradition as a company that values sustainable, green innovation.
At FP International, we pride ourselves on our mission: protecting what matters most. On the surface, that can be read as protecting packages. After all, we have a slew of void fill and packaging options for businesses large and small across every industry imaginable. What good is shipping your products every which way if you don’t have that extra layer of cushioning keeping everything safe and sound inside?
Going deeper, our mission statement of protecting what matters is a nod to our interest in something that, we feel, should be a bit more obvious: the Earth. You see, we are not in the business of plastics. On the contrary, we’re in the business of innovation, building an industrial culture of sustainability and stewardship of the planet. We might still rely on plastics, but our interest in finding alternatives (namely our green biodegradable* films and streamlining logistics processes like packaging and shipping) is still at the forefront. If we only cared for plastics and wanted to push a pro-plastics agenda, we wouldn’t bother finding alternatives at all. Research and development doesn’t just happen for free, you know.
The Great Pacific Elephant in the Room
Right now, plastics use is virtually unavoidable; its rise in popularity didn’t just happen overnight either. Plastic is a great barrier material to keep food fresh, as well as to water- and air-proof containers from the external elements. Even as you’re reading this post (and as I write it), we’re using machines encased in plastic, whose wires are wrapped in the stuff. But just as Samsung or Apple aren’t in the plastics business so much as they are consumer electronics, so too are we another business that, unfortunately, relies on a material that’s used without much responsibility or foresight on how it’ll affect our planet’s (and in turn, our own) health in the long-term.
Therefore, it’s accurate to say that the problem isn’t inherent with plastic, but the sheer amount of waste generated by its use. Every year, millions of tons of waste plastic ends up in our oceans and trapped in landfills, poisoning the environment and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Aside from the marginal amount that’s been incinerated (spewing toxic chemicals into the air we breathe), every plastic object ever made still exists in some form today. Why we use a material that takes literally centuries to fully degrade on its own so often in industries that specialize in one-time uses (especially food and beverage packaging) makes no sense. At least with our packaging materials, our conventional plastics can still be reused and repacked after receipt, not to mention our biodegradable* films that take care of themselves.
And that’s the biggest problem: business owners can’t just ignore this unsustainable problem and hope it goes away on its own. With estimates of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch ranging from the size of Texas to twice that of the United States, pretending this problem exists isn’t working.
Even assuming that people have the best intentions and want to be as sustainable as possible, current recycling and reclaim methods are too expensive for too little a yield to make meaningful change. Making pure plastic is a rather expensive process, both in materials used and investing in the machines to make it happen. Again, having such a valuable material used so — dare I say — irresponsibly with one-time uses is a line of thinking we don’t understand. For those that worry about their bottom lines, money keeps people from even trying to be sustainable. The question then becomes less about how do we force businesses to change, and more about making that change easier and more affordable.
Protecting Our Future
Sure, we might sell void-fill packaging solutions for businesses of every size, scope, and industry. More importantly, however, both within and without the walls of our offices, we’re also trying to export a culture of sustainable innovation. Our company blog has been highlighting various sustainable and green technologies alongside small business ideas and logistics topics. Just recently, we covered the Precious Plastic program that covers all those bases, discussing the entrepreneurial craze surrounding plastics upcycling and giving people links to get started on their own sustainable ventures. Where the bigger companies set in their ways shy away from expensive plastic recycling, creative innovators are making a business out of their apprehension (or, in some cases, laziness and avarice) as you can see here:
Dave Hakkens, the guy behind Precious Plastic, isn’t intent on letting anyone make excuses either with his open-source machine blueprints, how-tos, and plastic manufacturing lessons. With time running out on trying to stem the tide of climate change, others like him will begin to replace pro-plastic titans in favor of protecting the Earth. Because… you know… good luck trying to make any money on a planet that can’t sustain life anymore.
The story of our own founding also stems from sustainable innovation. Before FP was created by Arthur Graham in the 1960s, he headed Safe-T Pacific Co., a soda fountain supplies manufacturer in the decade prior. One of Safe-T’s products were paper soda straws that left behind pesky “straw ends” which often amounted to a wasteful byproduct. But Graham had different plans for them.
The hollow paper cylinders roughly three quarters of an inch long were offered to a few local businesses as an alternative packaging material. Some of these included Gumps in San Francisco as well as Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto. The demand for these straw ends became so great that Safe-T began making them specifically to keep up. FP International started then with a patent on hollow paper tube packaging, turning its eye to innovating the next up-and-coming packaging material: plastic.
With accolades from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the National Recycling Coalition (not to mention a number of state and local environmental organizations), we take protecting and preserving our environment seriously. While especially true in the logistics industry, we believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep our planet green and healthy.
People who try to justify unsustainable practices simply aren’t good business people. If sound business management stems from properly managing one’s resources, one cannot simply ignore the use of a major resource entirely — you know, the Earth we live on. You can’t just ignore rent payments that are due or needing to pay your employees or investing in new equipment, raw materials, and marketing campaigns. Likewise, you can’t ignore the impact your business has on the world and environment around it.
But sustainable practices aren’t just good for the environment. They’re good for individual and community health too. Farm-to-table economies, for example, encourage local participation and business interaction while minimizing carbon footprints in comparison to conventional farming practices; the need for sustainable packaging substitutes spurs crazy innovations like algae-based water bottles or edible beer can rings.
Whether you’re a business owner or the Average Joe, our potentially-fatal plastics obsession can be handled in one of two ways. First, you could continue ignoring the problem, assume someone else is going to fix it, and carry on your merry way and bad plastics habits. On the other hand, you can be a part of the solution, acknowledging your contributing role in the crisis and finding ways to minimize, stop, or reverse it. Where some might shy away from sustainability, it’s finding creative, innovative solutions that’ll dump the most wealth in the pockets of green entrepreneurs profiting off the late-adopters’ hesitance.
No matter what you choose, we’ll still be here protecting what matters most. While to you that might be the products inside your shipping containers, to us our bottom line is the green grass under our feet, the blue skies above our heads, and the crisp air that fills our lungs. No profit margin can compare to that.
*49.28% biodegradation in 900 days under non-typical conditions; no evidence of further biodegradation.