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PURE Labels: Going Beyond Green

By on May 7th, 2010

In the last week or so, we’ve been reporting on some alternatives to wood-pulp-based paper. One product line that didn’t make the leap into cyberspace last week is PURE Labels.

According to the manufacturer, Chicago-based Distant Village Packaging, PURE Labels are produced with 100% recyclable, treeless materials – in this case wild grass fiber.  DVP stated on its website that that the labels also use a recycled liner and a “recyclable adhesive.”

When asked about the nature of this recyclable adhesive,  Distant Village siad that PURE Labels use a recycling-compatible adhesive (RCA). RCAs are formulated so as not to gum up the works of recycled paper mills, but the adhesive itself is not recyclable – it gets skimmed off and ends up in the mill’s waste streams, not in the recycled paper. So the claim about using a recyclable adhesive is, well, simply wrong.

But there’s a silver lining to this little green cloud.

When I called the non-recyclability of the adhesive to the attention of Distant Village Packaging’s founder, Richard Cohen, he immediately agreed that the claim was an error (made by an intern) and that it would be promptly corrected (it was – within 24 hours of the mistake being called to Cohen’s attention). In this world of marketing hyperbole and out-and-out greenwashing, I found his accountability to be kind of refreshing.

Cohen’s accountability isn’t the only thing unusual about Distant Village. While it’s PURE Labels and its other packaging products are environmentally low-impact, that’s not the big story. As Cohen put it, “to make sustainability work, the products themselves need to be valuable to customers – and that value isn’t just because they are green.”

The big story about Distant Village is that it takes sustainability beyond the boundaries of raw materials and into the social fabric of life. All of Distant Village Packaging’s products are manufactured in small-scale workshops in third-world, economically disadvantaged communities. There, artisan workers use hand-crafted methods, including solar and steam heat and manual assembly – that minimize energy consumption and the waste typically associated with machinery and automation. And instead of the exploitation found when one looks under the rocks of some “indigenous” looking products, the community workshops from which Distant Village sources its products are operated according to the principles of fair trade, including those addressing wages, worker treatment and working conditions.

In addition to providing contract work, which creates jobs and develops marketable skill sets, in communities plagued by the inconsistencies of sustenance farming or fishing, Distant Village contributes directly to the communities with which it works through scholarship programs, disaster relief aid, sponsorship of cultural events, promoting healthy exercise and nutrition, supporting one-on-one mentorships, and other community initiatives. 

Cohen says that the process of qualifying an artisan community workshop as a Distant Village supplier takes about a year. He uses a four-step vetting process. The workshop must make quality products. It must demonstrate reliability and dependability (something that is not all that common in developing economies). There must be uniqueness in the workshops product and process. And the workshop must be interested in and have the potential for the “three legs” of sustainability – environmental responsibility, social equity, and economic viability over the long term. The vetting process is important. Distant Village Packing’s brand-name customers are now placing orders in quantities of tens of thousands of pieces.

More information about Distant Village Packaging can be found via this link.

  1. 5 Responses to “PURE Labels: Going Beyond Green”

  2. By Julie Littell on May 7, 2010 | Reply

    I have a question about wrapping paper and whether or not it is really recycled. I have done quite a bit of research on this topic as my company produces 100% recycled and recyclable gift wrap products.
    I have learned and been told that most wrapping paper is not recyclable because of the additives they put in it to make it shiny. When I spoke with our county recycling facility, they said that basically any wrapping paper that is shiny isn’t recycled. The guy told me that frankly most of the wrapping paper is so saturated with petroleum-based inks that the de-inking process doesn’t make it worthwhile.
    Is that true? Do you have any idea about which additives make wrapping paper non-recyclable? I don’t want to green wash!
    By the way, we now use Pure Labels for our wrapping paper products and I love them! Very earthy feel and look to them which I love.
    Thanks, Julie

  3. By Rich on May 7, 2010 | Reply

    Happy WORLD FAIR TRADE Day! (1 day early)

    I feel fortunate you “discovered us” and published this post. We’re a tiny company, doing the best we can will all we have! I hope the world appreciates and agrees with our sustainable business vision – so far so good!

    Pure Labels come in a variety of sizes, all desktop printer-ready, including
    – circles
    – return address
    – shipping labels
    – name badges

    We also have 8.5” x 11” tree-free paper sheets made from the same wild grass fiber for inkjet and laser jet desktop printers. Products, sizes and images can be viewed at http://www.distantvillage.com/labels.

    If you’d like more info, or just plain curious, I am happy to share more. Email to rich-at-distantvillage.com

  4. By Peter Nowack on May 8, 2010 | Reply

    Julie – I am not an expert on the recyclability of gift wrap, but there are a few things one should watch out for when considering whether any printed piece is recyclable. If it has a UV coating, it isn’t likely to be recyclable. The same holds true for papers containing glitter and plastic accents. In addition, what can be recycled varies from recycler to recycler, based on their ability to sell collected material to processors. So I would listen to your county’s advisor. Hope that helps a little. Maybe our readers have additional thoughts?

  5. By Mike on May 19, 2010 | Reply

    Can giftwrap be recycled? Yes, with some exceptions. The paper printed in the U.S. uses waterbased inks, imported paper may still be a solvent based ink. UV coated paper is bad all around; it cannot be recycled and the coating keeps it from breaking down in landfills. Make sure your giftwrap is manufactured in the U.S. and free of UV coating.

    Distant Village. Doesn’t sustainability mean to sustain one’s community on a local level? Why a 3rd world country to make these goods? Because labor is cheaper and profit is higher. Fannie May Candies used to drop cases of coffee mugs and paint in small villages in China so the villagers cound hand paint patterns on them. What Distant Village does is not much different.

  6. By Rich on Jun 10, 2010 | Reply

    Mike, I agree that sustainability is also to sustain one’s community on a local level. Your comment about cheap labor and high profit is not accurate. We work with all global communities, even in USA, to develop products, with most of them overseas. Our mission is completely different from Fannie May Candies. We practice fair trade with every producer, and develop only sustainable (triple bottom line) products. You can learn more about our social mission at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6pU1bFr-DY
    I hope this gives you a more accurate view of what Distant Village is doing and how we are helping needy communities.