Join Our Email Club Asks, “Should We Bag The Cereal Box?”


Today, the editorial team at published a thought-provoking post on over-packing in the cereal aisle.  “Should We Bag The Cereal Box” by Earth911’s Megan Dobransky outlines Malt-O-Meal’s Bag The Box® sustainability initiative; republished here with permission:

Malt-O-Meal has an agenda: it is out to change your mind about the cereal aisle.

“We think it’s time that people start changing the way they think about cereal and start getting smarter about how that cereal is packaged,” says Linda Fisher, consumer marketing manager for Malt-O-Meal.

Walk down the cereal aisle and you will see shelves lined with boxes. In a category that has long been dominated by boxed cereal, Malt-O-Meal is working to show consumers that there is a better, smarter way to buy their cereal – and it doesn’t have to cost more to do it. Through the company’s new Bag The Box initiative, Malt-O-Meal is setting out to show consumers that they not only can save money, but they can also feel good about buying more sustainable packaging by rethinking the box and buying cereal in a bag.

“We’re a small company – a David among Goliaths – and we originally introduced bags in 1965 because they saved money and gave us a competitive edge,” Fisher explained. “Truth is that cost savings were a big driver behind all our initiatives, from energy conservation to waste reduction. But we got to thinking about packaging and over-packaging, and realized that skipping the box and by packaging cereal in just a bag, we were also doing something good for the environment as well.”

In 2008, Malt-O-Meal hired Franklin Associates, a packaging consultant group, to analyze their carbon footprint. The group found that by packaging cereal in bags only, there’s 75 percent less consumer waste than the traditional bag-and-box packaging of most cereals. They also found that they were saving energy, fuel and other resources as well.

“People don’t have to pay a premium to be greener,” says Fisher. “Ninety percent of American households buy cereal. Every box has a plastic bag, which usually can’t be recycled, inside of it. Think of all the resources that go into producing the 2.3 billion boxes the U.S. produces each year, and then you put a plastic bag inside? That’s double packaging, and that’s unnecessary.”

Are Bags Better?

The inherent problem with any cereal bag is that it cannot be recycled in traditional plastic bag collections like at your local grocery store. Fisher says that’s because the bags are fabricated to preserve a long shelf life that grocers require and provide a moisture barrier, which keeps the cereal fresh. This applies to all types of cereal bags.

Cereal boxes are paperboard, so they can be recycled as long as they aren’t wet or contaminated.

(Earth911 invites you to Find your local recycle solution for paperboard)

But Malt-O-Meal sees the box as wasteful, even if it can be recycled. According to Fisher, Malt-O-Meal uses less energy and materials because resources aren’t used to produce boxes as well. “While we are firm believers in recycling, we are also advocates of reducing. It’s the reduce part were focused on,” she says.

While there are environmental positives by reducing packaging, there is still the matter of end-of-life disposal for Malt-O-Meal’s bags.

Enter TerraCycle.

The company collects hard-to-recycle materials and transforms them into usable products like messenger bags, fencing, coasters, stationery products and trash cans. The products can then be sent back to TerraCycle to begin the process all over again.

Simply sign up for the Cereal Bag Brigade, collect bags and mail them to TerraCycle. Each shipment earns you points that can be redeemed for $0.02 per bag for your school. Best of all, it’s totally free to participate.

If this isn’t an option for you, you can also reuse the bags. Because they are sturdy and resealable, Fisher suggests reusing them – not for food as they’re not made for secondary food use – but the many other things that need to be secured and stored. “We’ve heard from some of our customers that they make good crayon or coloring book holders for long road trip,” Fisher says.

Beyond Packaging

Malt-O-Meal’s sustainability efforts go beyond its packaging. It is the first cereal company to build new manufacturing facilities in a decade and it used as many green building and production practices as possible, including Energy Star-certified appliances.
“We do things differently,” Fisher says. “But we’re doing something right.”

The company purchases wind energy credits for its all-natural brands and has reduced water usage by 41 percent in the last 15 years. Its goal is to reach a 99-percent landfill diversion rate, and one plant has already reached 95 percent.

Fisher says that sustainability and good business go hand in hand. For instance, excess water at production facilities is a potential food safety problem. “So by reducing our water usage, we improve our food safety, and we’re also being more sustainable.”

For Malt-O-Meal, the goal has long been to pass cost savings to customers. A lot of money can be saved by adopting more sustainable business practices.

“Low cost innovation is in our DNA,” Fisher says. “We strive to find smarter, more efficient ways to do things without sacrificing quality, so we can continue to pass savings onto American families. Since 2005, we’ve saved American families over $1 billion.”

Family also seems to be in the Malt-O-Meal DNA. Now in its fourth generation, it’s been a family-owned business since the beginning.

“We take a long-view on every decision we make,” says Fisher. “If we can lessen our impact on the environment, everyone will be better off. That’s just the right thing to do, and we can do it in a way that makes business sense.”

To learn more about Malt-O-Meal’s sustainable packaging visit:

Earth911 Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Malt-O-Meal is one of these partners.