Cascadian Farm, the 40-year-old organic cereal manufacturer and part of the General Mills’ portfolio of brands, has introduced a new cereal box liner made from “green” materials. General Mills touts this new innovation as the “first-ever” cereal bag made out of plant-based renewable sources.
For the $13 billion ready-to-eat cereal market, this new bio-plastic bag could be another tactic to lure customers back to a fledgling industry. Over the past decade, growth in cereal consumption has been tepid at best as more consumers seek breakfast outside the home and seek alternatives such as breakfast sandwiches or cereal bars. Perhaps consumers are finally waking up: the cereal phenomenon, after all, is one of the great 20th century food scams. Considering the cost of breakfast cereal, especially the overpriced products food giants such as Kellogg’s and General Mills manufacture, one does just as well having a couple pieces of toast and a multivitamin if he or she wants a healthy start to the day—and less waste, too, since there is only a plastic bag to toss once that loaf runs out.
But we love cereal, which shows why the both the high fructose syrup and GMO-laden options made by General Mills and Kellogg’s, as well as the healthier options found at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, still sell.
So is this green cereal liner a great innovation, especially for those of us who try to avoid or at least reuse plastic bags whenever we can? And is this new cereal liner is a great alternative for the disposal of dog waste or a garbage pail liner?
First of all, the bag is only available in the Cinnamon Crunch Cereal, not with any of the other 74 other Cascadian Farm products. Furthermore, the bag is only 57 percent certified plant-based material. No information of the type of “certification” is readily available. We are told this bag will support the company’s mission to “help shape a better world,” but now that bag will actually be part of the mission is not exactly clear.
So what becomes of the bag once that 12 ounce box of cereal is demolished (seriously, does anyone really eat only one serving of breakfast cereal, which usually is about one cup?)? General Mills says this bag is a “large step towards being as closely aligned as possible with the land,” but again how that exactly works is unclear. Can the bag be composted? Probably not, as the other 43 percent of the bag liner is from conventional sources. Can it be recycled? Possibly, if one’s local municipality accepts plastic bags, but only if they are clean.
What this announcement does teach us is how difficult it is to shift away from plastic and of course, fossil fuels. True, agricultural waste shows some potential as feedstock for plastic (and paper), but finding alternatives to store products produced at a scale on par with General Mills is still a pesky challenge. And so this partly plant-based bag liner, introduced without any guidance as to what customers should do after that cereal box is empty, is really less of an exciting innovation and more of a public relations yawner.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).