There isn't anything new here, it's just another reminder that package designers have a lot of responsibility and ultimately a lot of sway in the world's health.
"The greenest of plastic bottles grow in fields" by Ross Tieman, Financial Times.
Some quotes to give you an idea of the article:
"...like Wal-Mart, has broadcast a goal of reducing packaging by five per cent."
"A British government study concluded that used packaging accounted for 18 per cent of the contents of a typical household bin, by weight and volume. In 2004, Britons threw away 171kg of packaging per person..."
"'Packaging enables a lot of resource conservation in the supply chain.' That is why, he [Anders Linde] says, 'strategically, we need to look at the whole supply chain. To look at packaging in isolation makes no sense." (Lucky for me this is a huge part of Design Management. Looking at the entire life cycle. Because, when you really look at it all, Recycling is not the answer.)
"But PLA [a proprietary plastic produced in Nebraska by Natureworks] is no miracle solution. Naturally Iowa says it takes 60-100 days to break down its milk bottles in a heated commercial composting facility. Put one in your home compost bin, says Sainsbury's Mr Lendram, and 'it will still be there when you move.'"
"Plastics are the biggest challenge. Rejecting PLA, it [Sainsbury's] is working with suppliers to re-package own-brand goods in materials that break down naturally. One is NatureFlex, a transparent cellulose film made by...Innovia Films"
"Another supplier is Italy's Novamont, which offers a more opaque bioplastic, Materi Bi, derived from maize, which can form bags, foam trays, or even drinking cups. Plantic Technologies, of Australia... offers a maize-based resin that can be injection-moulded and used for film."
My question then becomes, what is the triple-bottomline cost of raising maize to produce packaging. What is it when we look to essentially a food to make packaging. Is it better or worse than plastic? I'm guessing that it's better. I just worry about the cost of food rising for the sake of things like biodiesel (which actually I love) and bottled water (which I have a guilty pleasure of and buy for convenience while traveling).
However, I'm more in favor of making any packaging biodegradable over toxic, even if it means using plant/food-based materials. The push, I imagine, is to get people to buy locally and fresh so that packaging isn't as much of a problem. So that you buy what you need. I think I'm treading on Slow Food Movement water now...