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This article was originally published in The Tan Sheet

Executive Summary

ENVIRONMENTAL PACKAGING: 35% REDUCTION IN OTC PACKAGING BY YEAR 2000 is recommended by the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, CONEG Project Director-Source Reduction Andrew Neblett told the Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association's Manufacturing Controls Seminar in Philadelphia on Oct. 8. CONEG has also set a 15% reduction in packaging weight by 1996 from 1988 levels as a minimum target for manufacturers in its "model packaging standards legislation." Other manufacturing measures proposed by Washington, D.C.- based CONEG's Source Reduction Council include: packaging with at least 25% post-consumer recycled content; recycling at the rate of 25% package-to-package; and reuse of packaging at least five times for its original purpose. To date, 16 states have passed legislation based on CONEG's model, while three others have such legislation pending, according to the coalition. CONEG, however, would prefer that manufacturers participate in the coalition's voluntary program to design ways to reduce corporate waste rather than wait to comply with changes in the law, Neblett said. "The most efficient, effective way to reduce the amount of packaging is to allow industry to tackle the problem on a voluntary basis," he said. The Source Reduction Council was formed in 1989 to "encourage leadership and coordination of the Northeast states' solid waste policies and activities." The group is currently working with OTC drug manufacturers and other industries that distribute products in the Northeast to establish a set of environmental goals, including: reducing package waste; educating consumers on source waste reduction; developing rate pricing for garbage collection to encourage waste reduction; and forming composts as "viable" waste management options. In addition, CONEG has already drafted model legislation on the use of toxic materials in packaging geared at reducing the use of four heavy metals: lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium. That model provides a schedule for reducing the incidental amounts of the metals to 600 parts per million after two years, 250 ppm after three years, and 100 ppm after four years. Sandoz Executive Director of Production and Technology James Carlson cautioned that "several" members of Congress "are actually drafting proposals to introduce" environmental controls for manufacturers, some of which would cost "billions and billions" of dollars for industry. Carlson suggested that a "viable approach" to encouraging environmental packaging by industry is "the economic approach." He noted that "one of the things that [industry] could take a look at here is this voluntary type of program, or industry-wide review system" as a pre-emptive measure for costly legislation. Environmental packaging consultant Robert Kelsey of Kelsey Company also recommended that an industry-wide group begin to shape "workable" guidelines for environmentally friendly packaging. He cautioned the group: "Don't wait . . . It's a big, big project you have to undertake." For individual manufacturers, Kelsey recommended reducing waste at the source by improving the package design. Money spent early on improving package design may ultimately prove to be the least expensive way for companies to head off costly mandated requirements, he indicated. "It's going to give you a chance to come out even [financially]," he said, adding: "We haven't come better than even with anybody yet." Manufacturers should use vendors to determine how packaging can be redesigned, Kelsey advised. If vendors report no product breakage during deliveries, he suggested that maybe the manufacturer is overpackaging. Likewise, he noted that if the vendor reports excessive breakage, then more packaging is needed. Kelsey also told the group that recycled materials pose specific design problems that need to be considered in engineering "green" packaging. As examples, he pointed out that some recycled materials do not hold ink well and that packaging that uses more than 35% recycled material may be less durable. However, Kelsey cautioned that companies should make sure that new processes do not violate local laws before they repackage a product. Although environmental packaging laws currently vary from state to state, Kelsey predicted that the federal government will likely become involved in standardizing those restrictions in the future.

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