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Keep the change

Thursday at Labelexpo in Rosemont, Illinois was a bit slower than Tuesday and Wednesday. It gave me a chance to walk the show and look for change, change that would affect our industry and make an impact. (Of course, I’m assuming – never assume! – that you erudite readers of this publication were either at the show or know someone who attended). While Tuesday and Wednesday were exhilarating, it was a grueling forty-eight hours of non-stop talk, meetings, renewing old friendships, and, naturally, sharing a beer or two. To be honest, Thursday, for me, was a welcome respite. Interestingly, I only saw one major change of importance. To be sure, I was looking for change that would affect environmental issues, not product or machine developments that could translate into bottom line improvement. I want to briefly mention the one item at Labelexpo that caught my eye and finish with two other changes, one in California which will affect that state and its residents, and another that will affect all of us.

Appvion, formerly Appleton Papers, recently launched its Alpha free – 2.1 Receipt Paper. The receipt paper, while not pressure sensitive, is phenol free and is used at grocery stores, quick service gas stations, Seven-Elevens, etc. This new paper has a yellow cast on one side rather than the typical white, two sided receipt paper. Most important it is phenol free. Over the years Appvion’s customers have asked for phenol free paper because the traditional receipt paper contained the chemicals bisphenol S (BPS) and BPA. BPS is related to and a substitute for BPA, and is used in the coating of thermal uncoated base paper. America and Europe have investigated BPA for quite a while as a potential carcinogen. Authorities can’t prove a direct cause of cancer but obviously suspicion causes concern. I know that at least one country in Europe has banned BPA for several years. There are probably more. Point: BPA isn’t good.

Interestingly, Appvion eliminated BPA from its thermal point of sale (POS) paper almost ten years ago. Receipt paper made by them continued to contain bisphenol S so this change completes their focus on more sustainable products. Congratulations to Appvion.

The replacement chemistry for BPA is fascinating. The development work started two years ago. About forty Appvion employees considered over one hundred different formulations before settling on Vitamin C as an appropriate alternative. Yes, Vitamin C! Bill Van Den Brandt of Appvion said, “Our scientists found a way to use Vitamin C without sacrificing product performance in our thermal paper.” Marketing Manager, Dave Pauly, continued, “The use of a weak acid in thermal coating chemistry plays an important role in forming an image on the paper when heat is applied. Phenols are a class of organic compounds that function as a weak acid. However, there are other organic acids, like Vitamin C, that can serve the same role in thermal paper chemistry, but have a different chemical structure.” Did any of you ever experiment with huge doses of Vitamin C to prevent colds? I did. It didn’t seem to reduce colds during the winter for me. All I did was to turn a shade of yellow! Hah! Now I know; it’s put to better use in receipt paper!

Changes like this one are incredibly positive. Good for Appvion!

Change number two is about the bill passed in California to ban plastic bags. This would be the first statewide ban on plastic grocery bags in the United States if signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. He must do this by September 30th or the legislative enactment will be void. Obviously, there has been great controversy. It was supported by environmentalists and grocery retailers, and opposed by most plastic and, interestingly, paper bag manufacturers. Indeed, it is a big change if Governor Brown signs it. It will eliminate about 20 billion single use plastic bags.

The law eliminates single use plastic bags in grocery stores and pharmacies, effective July 1st, 2015, and in convenience and liquor stores one year later. It allows reusable plastic and textile bags to be sold as well as paper bags with recycled content at ten cents per bag. The recycled paper bag must contain at least 40% post-consumer fiber.

The reason the paper bag manufacturers have opposed the bill is explained by a recent comment from the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA): “Similar legislation in cities have shown that plastic bag bans that also tax paper bags (obviously without any post-consumer fiber) have not benefited the (paper) industry.” AF&PA’s contention is that “paper bags are made from a renewable resource, are 100% recyclable, and have a high recovery rate compared to competing materials.” (Like plastic). “Taxing them implies that they are part of the environmental problem that plastic bag bans are attempting to solve.” I think this position is hogwash. AF&PA gets improvement in volume over plastic, regardless if their bag has to have a percentage of secondary or not. They just want it both ways. What else is new!

There are two interesting caveats to this bill which says to me that the issues have been studied extensively: one, the grocery retailers will make a profit from selling bags instead of giving them away for free. And, two, the plastic bag manufacturers that originally opposed the bill now support it because the legislation includes financial incentives to retrain workers to make reusable plastic bags out of plastic waste. The change, in my view, is a win/win. Frankly, it supports my view that we just don’t need dirty, used plastic bags blowing in the wind! Change.

And, finally, a change that will affect everyone, every individual and every business, is the banning of the incandescent light bulb, effective January 1st. Did you know this? This is a dramatic change.

Around 2000 or 2002 compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) were introduced. This was to be the answer to reducing energy but at the same time providing equal light. I personally changed all our lights at home. I was totally committed to CFLs. But the light was pale, even sickly, and after six months I went back to incandescent bulbs. Now we have better options with the introduction of the light-emitting diodes (LEDs). This new bulb gives immediate light, a warmer light, and is pretty similar to the incandescent bulb. Further, they are more efficient and last longer. But, be careful, they are more expensive.

Seth Stevenson wrote a great piece recently in the Chicago Tribune where he explained how artificial light is evaluated. First he explained that most bulb developments try to replicate the “classic 60 watt/800 lumen incandescent bulb.” That’s the benchmark. Then he explained:

Watts measure energy use; lumens measure brightness. A typical incandescent needs 60 watts to produce 800 lumens, for a lumens-to-watt ratio of 13.3. By contrast, most CFLs use only 14-15 watts to get to 800 lumens for a much better lumens-to-watt ratio in the 50s. Even better are the LED bulbs I sampled: They emit 800 lumens but require just 9 or 10 watts to do it, for a lumens-to-watt ratio that’s way up around 80. Less juice, same brightness.

Prices on LED bulbs can vary widely from state to state, since there are different rebates available for meeting Energy Star efficiency guidelines. Most LED bulbs coming to market these days attempt to nail a basic price point around 410 for a single bulb, give or take a couple of dollars. That sounds expensive (incandescent bulbs were selling for 25 cents apiece before the ban), but LEDs make up the difference through energy cost savings and longevity. Most LEDs are rated to last about 23 years if you use them three hours per day. When you amortize 10 bucks over 23 years, the steeper price doesn’t seem like a huge deal.

But now we come to the elephant in the lamp socket: The quality of light, which ultimately comes down to personal preference. Maybe some reddish warmth in your bedroom, while a colder, harsher light in your kitchen. Your best bet is to visit a lighting store where you can observe how light bulbs differ side by side.

Stevenson evaluated five different LEDs. He rationally concluded that the TCP Elite and the Philips SlimStyle were the best based on functionality and yield. He also was intrigued with the Finally Bulb which may be the very best. It hasn’t been introduced yet but Stevenson suggests consideration before we make a final decision. It is neither a CFL nor LED but a completely radical approach to light.

The Finally Bulb is very energy efficient compared to the incandescent. However, it is a bit less efficient than an LED. At 14.5 watts and a lumens-to-watt ratio of 55, it’s more like a CFL. But, it’s light quality is superb. When compared to the incandescent it won hands down over both the CFL and LED.

At the end of the day, I have preached that change is necessary, particularly if we want improvement in all aspects of our lives and businesses. I didn’t like the CFL bulb but I do like the LED. And now we don’t have any choice because the incandescent will be banned. My friend Lester Brown preaches change. My friend Amory Levins preaches change. Our industry must move forward to change or we will be relegated to the dinosaur age. Vitamin C, paper bags with recycled fiber, and the Finally Bulb are the wave of the future in an ever changing environment. I believe we have the same ingenuity and creativity that will help us into the next millennium. Change or lose!

Another Letter from the Earth