Exercising Environmental Responsibility: Part 1

As a concerned user of a particular consumer product, I used the toll-free telephone number recently to contact the manufacturer.

The friendly voice that greeted me assured me she was available to assist me. I responded by stating I had a concern about the level of lead listed in the ingredients on the package of a specific product her company made. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “You have no need to worry. The level of lead is very small.”

Somewhat unsatisfied with her answer, I continued our conversation. “What is the actual level of lead?” She replied readily, “0.01.”

At this point in our conversation, I now knew only slightly more than I did at the beginning of my talk with the friendly voice. “Very small” is a subjective term that did not satisfy my engineering-trained brain; “0.01” is a term that has no scientific validity and insults my intelligence. Attempts to elicit additional information met with no success.

The person who handled my call did not understand that without any units, the 0.01 term was meaningless. Was the level 0.01%, 0.01 parts in 10 parts of total formula, 0.01 parts in 1,000 of total formula, 0.01 parts in 1 million parts of total formula, etc.?

Each obviously is totally different as it progresses from small to very small depending on one's viewpoint.

Why is this a significant story to a reader concerned with converting and flexible packaging? Simply because it illustrates one aspect of environmental responsibility, and environmental responsibility is a duty of everyone who works in these industries.

When suppliers anywhere in the chain of manufacturing provide information, they must give meaningful and truthful data. It is irresponsible to make any attempt to keep information from customers that is necessary for them to use a product in a concerned and educated fashion.

In other words, such action is not an environmentally friendly move.

Consider a similar story involving a recent congressional election.

A challenger for the position was attacking the incumbent by accusing him of trying to poison his constituents with arsenic. The incumbent has voted against a bill that would have required construction of a new, very expensive treatment plant to reduce the arsenic level in a water supply to a specific level.

The response of the incumbent to his attacker was that he obviously would make no attempt to kill the very people who had the power to elect him. Without their votes, how could he retain his congressional seat?

In this case, the incumbent and his attacker were demonstrating environmental irresponsibility. The real issue was not that someone was trying to poison people by giving them arsenic to ingest in their drinking water. The arsenic level in the water supply was the same as it had been for many generations of water drinkers who use that source.

The real issue was that detection of the level of arsenic in water had improved. Now, tests could report arsenic in water at levels that were undetectable previously. This new level of arsenic measured in the water supply was above the level toxicologists had decided was safe for human consumption. The failure to exercise environmental responsibility was to overlook the correct issue and cloud it with misrepresentation.

The lesson for those in converting and flexible packaging is that environmental responsibility means knowing what you are talking about and what you are writing about.


David J. Bentley Jr. is a recognized industry expert in polymers, laminations, and coatings with more than 30 years of experience in R&D and technical service. Contact him at dbentley@unm.edu.



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