Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Country of Origin: Where Does the Packaging Come From?

I like to shop.  Frequently. Whether its grocery stores, clothing stores, shoe stores or department stores — I’m there!  And I am getting better and better at utilizing online stores.  I purchase things from all over the place. 

Our clothing and items like meat, fruits and vegetables have a label that provides us with an indication of where they were manufactured or grown. And shipping labels can provide some indication of where the product was shipped from. However, there is no similar detail regarding the packaging of our products.  For example, if you purchase a blanket packaged in a plastic pouch that is labeled ”Made in China” can you assume this applies to both the blanket and the package? 

As you might recall, ”country of origin“  became a big issue concerning toxins in toys and dog food a few years ago. Lately, its become a popular topic of conversation amongst people in the packaging world. Customers are regularly asking their suppliers to detail or even certify that certain toxic materials aren’t in their products… or their packaging! Particularly because one country’s environmental regulations may not be as stringent as others. 

 So, exactly where did the package that surrounds your product come from? Seems like a simple enough question, right?  Not exactly.  By the time consumers see a plastic package it has likely been through multiple hands, has something akin to a label and/or exterior printing on it and started out as a plastic resin somewhere in the world. Once you add a number of distributors and converters into the mix, calculating where exactly all of those pieces started can be a somewhat tricky and sticky process. 

Plastic resins are manufactured here in the United States, but that does not mean your plastic started out in Houston. It may have come from the Middle East or southwest Asia. Then it may get shipped here, but not necessarily.  Maybe that resin goes somewhere in Europe or South America and is turned into your primary package.  A label manufactured in Mexico or Canada might be affixed to the outside and printing done in ink from just about anywhere could be on that label. What you may get  in the end is a plastic package whose country of origin is unknown because its components came from multiple places. Putting a label on a package that details the country of origin may be a good idea, but then, will that be where the original resin was manufactured, or is that a detail of each little stop it makes along the way?

Being transparent and reducing our carbon footprint is a great idea. But sometimes in practice, at least for the time being, it is a little difficult.  Creating a chart of origin for components of a plastic package would require cooperation of the supply chain worldwide — and I don’t know that we’re quite that organized as a planet yet.

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