Okay, so Malt-O-Meal (you know, that cereal that no one eats, but that's been around for years) has never changed its packaging. But the company that makes it says it's always been sustainable because the cereal comes in big bags, so that's green, right? Follow?
Well, the Malt-O-Meal people have been touting the benefits of buying its big-bag product on some Web site, while giving sh*t to companies that sell cereal in boxes, according to this article.
But just how "green" is this practice (or doing of the same thing in the same way) really?
To quote from the article:
At the top-most level, yes, putting cereal in just bags compared to bags and boxes has benefits: Not sourcing material from trees, and not using energy and fuel to produce and transport boxes.
But again: Is that green? And is Malt-O-Meal green as a result of this practice?
The answer, as near as I can tell, is a qualified "no." Or "I don't know." Because green or not, Malt-O-Meal is an example of a company that is adding to the already overwhelming cacophony of green stories, by touting the environmental benefits of their products and packaging, without having made a single change.
Semantics is just one of the issues I take with Malt-O-Meal's campaign. They company says it's "saved" 156 million pounds of paperboard and 1.1 billion BTUs of energy since 2001 by using just bags. To be more accurate, they avoided that packaging and energy: If they didn't switch away from boxes, they didn't save anything.
Well, okay. Are you finding fault with Malt-O-Meal for not wasting resources to begin with? I don't know ...
And those energy figures highlight another problem with Malt-O-Meal's announcement: a lack of specificity.
Nowhere does Malt-O-Meal say how much energy or fuel it uses and how many emissions it puts out from the production or shipping of its packaging, making it hard to discern the actual difference between their packaging and paperboard boxes. Then again, we don't know of any other cereal company that's put out such specific figures, but we also haven't seen other cereals make such bold claims about their packaging being better than others'.
Um ... okay, so no other cereal company has specific figures either. Basically, Malt-O-Meal is basing its argument on the large size of its bags. Period. I think we've got that sussed.
One thing Malt-O-Meal also doesn't say is that its bags use more plastic than cereal in boxes, since the bags are thicker and also have a resealable enclosure. That means more petroleum-based plastic. Now, I don't think that extra plastic would be enough to rival the impacts of paperboard boxes, but it's worth noting.
Make of that what you will.
The fact is, Malt-O-Meal has never used boxes. They are a discount brand. Boxes would increase their costs. So it seems disingenuous to twist that into a green act without more accurate facts and figures.
Interestingly, Malt-O-Meal does have a line of cereal called Mom's Best Naturals that comes in boxes. It appears, then, that they're saying their conventional, sugar- and corn syrup-fueled cereal is greener than its slightly more natural brand.
And that leads to yet another quibble I take with Malt-O-Meal's Bag the Box campaign (as well as with other companies who pat themselves a bit too hard on their backs for packaging changes when their ingredients leave something to be desired): Green is about more than what's on the box or bag: What's inside counts just as much. And making cereals from conventional, pesticide- and oil-intensive corn, wheat, sugar and partially hydrogenated oils hardly counts as green or sustainable. But more important than what Malt-O-Meal puts in its bags is what it's sharing with potential customers, and the media. Until they publish more details about their environmental impacts, and set some goals around improving them, this is just a bag half-empty.
I think I'll stick with English muffins. Thank you.