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And, on the Seventh Day…. my bag decomposed

August 24, 2010

Normally, in this blog, I want to write about the great things that packaging does for brands. In most cases this is true.

However, I want to write about a product that IS a package, and, while conceptually it is great, the execution sends out the wrong message.

GLAD is, to most people in Canada, the number 1 name in garbage bags. To consumers, GLAD means strong, durable, tough, flexible and easy to close. It’s probably because GLAD delivers on all these promises that it’s the best selling brand. Just to help us remember all this, here’s a clip of a typical GLAD commercial:

Here in Canada, recycling is fairly well established in urban communities. We separate our recyclable papers, plastics, glass and metals and put them out in blue boxes for collection. When the blue box was first introduced, it started a big downward trend in waste going into landfills. The next phase was to separate out organic waste from garbage, and divert this to composting facilities. For this, we have green bins that we set out each week. Into these green bins go vegetable peelings, meat scraps, bones, pet waste etc. Because all these materials decompose, they create a strong smell of decay, which is why green bins are collected weekly.

We put our green bin waste into a bin in our kitchen and use a plastic bag as the liner and a means of carrying the waste out to the green bin. Because polyethylene bags do not decompose, the compostable waste system still allows a small amount of such non-compostable material to get through.

So, when I saw GLAD had introduced a green bin liner made from compostable plastic I thought, “Hallelujah! What a great idea.” I’m not sure how widely available this is, but GLAD compostable bags are definitely for sale in Canada. I didn’t see these on the GLAD.com website for the US market. Here’s what they look like.

 

GLAD Compostable Bags

 

The product even won awards from Canadian Living/Coup de Pouce magazines as the “Best New Product”.

So much for the concept. A great idea. Green. Presumably sustainable.

Now for the execution.

I bought a box of 100 small compostable bags about a month ago. So far, not one has made it to our green bin outside without leaking or falling apart, which suggested to me it is not an isolated quality problem. As far as I could tell, the bag itself was disintegrating and the only way to get the waste to the green bin was to drop it in another bag.

Here is a photo taken in our kitchen to show what we were seeing each week:

 

The Decomposed Bag

 

What’s ironic is that this looks like the “other brand” bag from a GLAD commercial. Before purchasing the GLAD product, we had tried using No Name compostable garbage bags, which worked very well. When I bought the GLAD version, I was expecting a superior product. Who would have thought the No Name brand would be the better product?

One would think the bag should be able to last long enough to make it from the consumer’s kitchen to the municipal composting site intact. In our household, we put our green bin waste every week because it is picked up on a weekly basis.

What I find disturbing is not that the bag decomposed. That is a desirable property. It’s more that my experience casts doubt on whether the product was tested to ensure it met normal handling conditions.

I complained to Clorox, the manufacturers of GLAD products, through the brand’s website. The next day, I received a very nice email apologizing for the inconvenience and offering to send me a coupon for GLAD products.

From a customer service perspective, the Clorox staff were polite and prompt; however, I was left with the feeling that no one actually cared that the product couldn’t make it from the kitchen to the curb without falling apart.

The email I received also told me the product was only designed to last 2-4 days in the house, but nowhere on the package does it say anything to this effect. All the package copy says is, “GLAD 100% compostable bags are made … so they disintegrate at compost facilities.” It also claims, “GLAD 100% Compostable bags provide quality and strength you can depend on.”

It is Packaging 101 that the package must enable the user to transport goods intact from point of origin to the destination. To deliver goods intact, the package must be capable of withstanding normal handling conditions. This does not seem to be the case with this product.

To me, it’s sad that Clorox seems to have missed an opportunity to offer a product with a unique and sustainable benefit under the trusted GLAD name. The question it leaves me with is whether anyone from the company tried using the product in their own home while the product was being developed.

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