This post is part of our Getting Down to Business series, sharing ideas, solutions and case studies that we can pass on to businesses about waste reduction
Wherever possible, we encourage businesses to offer unpackaged items and to accept BYO containers to put things in, or else offer a reuse and refill system (so you return the empty container/bottle back and the company accepts it, sterilises it, refills it and then puts it back on the shelf). These kinds of systems really produce change that sits further up the waste hierarchy. But are there times where single-use packaging is necessary, and in these cases, could compostable packaging be the answer?
First, we want to note that we’re not keen on advocating a direct replacement of all packaging with so-called compostable packaging because this approach tends to keep our behaviour at the ‘disposal’ end of the spectrum, which doesn’t disrupt the wasteful pattern of going to all that effort of extracting the Earth’s resources, transporting those resources to factories to manufacture them into single-use products, then shipping those single-use packaging products to market, for them to be used just once then maybe composted.
However, there are some instances where we see a place for compostable packaging. For example, applications where a high-barrier is needed for freshness, for transporting bulk quantities of wholefoods to be put in bulk bins (where a double-walled paper bag alone won’t do), and so on.
The challenge is then finding home compostable options (not things like PLA that require commercial composting that our waste collection system is very far off being ready for). Of course, brown paper bags are home compostable, but don’t provide a high barrier option. Cellophane can be home compostable, but these days it’s very hard to ascertain whether the cellophane your local is using is actually 100% cellulose or whether it’s got some petrochemicals in.
So, what options are there for businesses to package their perishable products in then?
Enter Econic, a Hamilton-based company making world-leading, high barrier, home compostable packaging that will break down in the average home compost in about 12 weeks without eco-toxicity (according to the European and American compostability standards that Econic packaging is certified under). Econic is a subset of Convex, which is a company responsible for a very large amount of the dreaded single-use plastic packaging we see around New Zealand. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about an experienced plastic packaging manufacturer being well placed to develop compostable alternatives that meet the needs of their clients and performs in similar ways to traditional plastic.
You can read about the packaging on their website. They already make home compostable packaging for a range of different products, including:
- Trade Aid’s entire chocolate range, and their instant coffee packets, and Loving Earth’s small chocolate sachet-type packets.
- Many NZ coffee brands, including Kōkako and Caffe Prima
- Bostock’s Free Range, Organic Chicken
- Ceres’ Organics Muesli and White Quinoa
- Kōkako’s Drinking Chocolate (even the wee zipper is compostable!)
One thing to note, and this is important, is that Econic’s packaging is not perfect. While each film of Econic’s multi-layered packaging is certified to international compostability standards, the packaging as a whole (including the adhesives sticking the bits together) is not, and each film is not made from 100% renewable resources. The company is working on plant-based adhesives, but it’s a work in progress. It’s worth noting that in New Zealand we don’t have a proper vetting and verification process for compostable/biodegradable packaging, so elements of trust are still required when we try, as non-scientists, to assess the compostability claims of any biodegradable packaging. For this reason, we certainly support the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s call for labelling and regulation of all packaging that claims to be biodegradeable/compostable, and when this is introduced, we would expect Econic to submit their product to such a verification process.
If you’d like to see an example of how you can advocate for a business to use Econic packaging, check out our letter to Whittaker’s, who make very fine chocolate, but in landfill-only packaging.