Exercising Environmental Responsibility: Part 2

The column in this space last month presented two examples that indicated a lack of environmental responsibility. Unfortunately, numerous other examples exist. Chemical bashing is very popular today. Many people automatically assume that anything chemical is bad.

Recently I encountered an individual who was promoting his food product in a special display in a grocery store. He offered me a sample to taste with the information that the product contained lemon juice as an ingredient.

I asked him why this piece of information made his product superior to that of other suppliers. He informed me that other manufacturers of this food item used vinegar to achieve the same taste with the comment that “lemon juice is more natural than vinegar.”

His implication was that vinegar is a chemical. Chemicals are bad. Therefore, the products from his competitors that contain vinegar are bad for you. His product uses lemon juice instead of a chemical. Since his product does not contain the chemical, it's good for you.

I resisted the urge to explain to him that both vinegar and lemon juice essentially are organic acids — definitely chemicals. Also, I knew any attempts on my part to educate the individual on the chemical composition of other ingredients in his food would be futile.

I was not going to point out that even our bodies are composed of chemicals. The individual simply was continuing the chemical bashing that is so popular today.

Sometimes people will go to the other extreme and argue that a chemical is good because it is “approved.” I have heard or read many instances in which people have stated that a particular chemical has approval of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Strictly speaking, this often is not a true statement because that organization usually does not give such carte blanche approvals. Rather, it allows the use of certain chemical ingredients at specified levels under particular conditions. Someone making reference to such a ruling by the FDA should not say a material has approval. Instead they should say the product conforms to the composition requirements of a particular FDA regulation subject to any qualifications.

As noted last month in this column, the question arises how these examples of a lack of environmental responsibility pertain to those working in the converting and flexible packaging industries. In the case of chemical bashing, we must be very careful not to fall into the trap of doing this ourselves.

In addition, we should make efforts to educate those we encounter that engage in this practice. The general public must learn that maintaining life around the globe as we know it today would be impossible without the benefits that come from the chemical industry. Plastic films and laminates are a perfect example. They contain, protect, preserve, and otherwise permit wide use of a large variety of materials ranging from small food items to heavy industrial items. Such films and laminates derive from chemicals.

In the case of citations of FDA regulations, people in the converting and flexible packaging industries must be especially careful they use the proper language to convey exactly what they are certifying to others. Rarely is the statement that something is FDA approved a good approach.

Perhaps the best lesson to learn from these examples is that jobs in the flexible packaging and converting areas involve the need to educate the people inside and outside the industries who use the products.


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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