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By David Feder, Contributing Editor | 05/07/2008
Think locally, wrap globally
The U.S. is seeing rapidly accelerating consumer demand for fair-trade, eco-friendly and sustainable business practices. Not carrying these green concepts overseas can smack of colonialism to those behind that agenda here.
More on the web
“Four steps to China: One billion hungry customers await you” offers an overview of what it takes to establish a food processing operation in the People's Republic of China. The webcast features Tyson’s Jim Rice plus Alex Bryant, president of East West Associates; and Jeff Olin, managing partner of international tax services for accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP.
But globally sourcing food packaging — eco-friendly or otherwise — can be fairly intimidating, cautions Luke Vernon, vice president of operations for the Boulder, Colo.-based Eco-Products Inc., maker of compostable plastic products.
“There are several steps that should be taken to ensure proper safety and procedures exist when it comes to product packaging overseas,” he says. “First, although U.S. law doesn't require importers to verify factory working conditions and certifications, processors should visit the factory they want to do business with. It's important to see first-hand what the working conditions are like and to build a good relationship from the start.” Vernon cites the importance of face-to-face meetings in other cultures.
Regarding certifications of overseas plants, some of the most important ones in the food packaging industry are ISO and HACCP. Vernon recommends having third parties audit the factories to ensure they meet both processor and customers’ standards.
“Additionally,” Vernon adds, “conducting third-party tests of the products is important for verifying the products are what the factories say they are. Sadly, there are factories out there that will promise one product and manufacture a different, modified product.”
Eco-Products works with the Biodegradable Products Institute to certify its products are compostable. BPI has biodegradability standards for food packaging and ensures claims of product biodegradability are legitimate.
Vernon also recommends companies randomly conduct content analyses of such packaging products and test for the existence of certain dangerous materials, for example lead. Although there are no U.S. government regulations requiring such testing in foodservice disposables, the tests are important for building customer confidence and ensuring what is promised is what is delivered.
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