A Closer Look into Eco-Friendly Packaging Options for Granola
When we first started making granola, we naturally just thought about the food itself — its ingredients, recipe, quality and nutrition. Packaging was one of the last elements to our product. We went for plastic (it’s 100% recyclable) because it was transparent, allowing consumers to see what they’re buying, and kept granola fresh and crunchy for longer.
Moving away from Plastic
But along with the no-plastic-straw and no-plastic-bag revolution, the eventual general hate-on-plastic looked imminent and inevitable. We heard the feedback from customers, and made a conscious effort to move away from plastic pouches towards ecologically sustainable packaging.
The choice wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped. There are plenty of suppliers of so-called eco-friendly packaging, but as it turns out that particular label may not always have the same meaning we think of when we hear it. Sure, using plastic that’s biodegradable under commercial conditions within 5 years might be better than using completely non-biodegradable plastics, but it still exacerbates the issue of our landfills being full to the point of bursting, and the Great Pacific garbage patch keeps growing and growing.
What should we do? That’s when I jumped in and helped our Founder, Christy, do extensive research into the multitude of eco-friendly materials available today, both from local and global suppliers. What I learned is this: just because it’s eco-friendly, doesn’t mean it’s the ideal option.
Un-simple truths about “recyclable” and “biodegradable”
Recyclable materials need recycling plants to be brought back into circulation, otherwise they get thrown into the non-recyclable trash. Biodegradable materials that have the “under industrial conditions” fine print need, you guessed it, industrial facilities in order to actually biodegrade, otherwise they get thrown into the rest of the trash.
Learning about the various kinds of eco packaging has been a mutual learning experience for Christy and me, as we went back and forth discussing which options are acceptable and which aren’t.
We decided on the “compostable” keyword, which implies that the materials can degrade and serve an additional purpose of enriching the earth for new plants to grow out of — a noble cause. Even in this category, there are types of materials that boast their capabilities of degradation, but the reality, once you dig a bit deeper (pun not intended), is disappointing.
“Oxo-biodegradable” is not really biodegradable
For example, while “oxo-biodegradable” plastics technically don’t claim to be compostable, they boast about the superior breakdown process that supposedly only requires a salt-based additive. Sadly, the material in fact does not biodegrade, but turns into millions of miniscule microplastics.
What does “compostable” really mean?
How about actually compostable materials, then? Industrially compostable materials are defined by the European standard EN 13432 as materials that disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after six months. However, in case you thought it’s a 100% thing, it actually means that 90% of the material will have been converted to CO2. Another complication here is that the UK is not equipped to handle the volume of these industrially compostable plastics — consumers just use too much of it for the highly-specialised facilities to be able to keep up with.
We move on to what seems to be the better solution — plastics that are marked and marketed as home-compostable. There aren’t any international standards for home composting, but for example Belgium created a national standard that requires at least 90% of the materials to biodegrade within 12 months under the conditions of ambient temperatures in order to be marketed as home-compostable, and countries like France followed suit.
“Orange Peel” TIPA Packaging
In our search, we came upon a bio-plastic option that seemed ideal: TIPA materials are graded home-compostable and all parts of the packaging (laminates and labels included) bio-degrade to the 100th percentage. These materials are oil and plant-based and the official TIPA stance on flexible packaging is that we should strive to use packaging akin to an orange peel — a material that protects the product inside perfectly, and when degraded not only does not endanger our planet, but provides a multitude of benefits to the ecosystem.
Still, the nature of the bio-packaging business world means that this solution is still not as prevalent as regular plastics — minimum order quantities for these types of packaging were extremely high. We were disappointed to discover there was little room to budge or negotiate. The quantity was definitely not something we could consider given how little we produce and sell. Maybe someday!
Cellulose-based 100% home-compostable NatureFlex
Among the options from this last category, there is a material that fulfilled all of our criteria — a bio-based cellulose compound named NatureFlex. Derived from a completely renewable source (wood pulp — a byproduct of the paper industry), this material has from 90 to 99% of bio-based content. It can do anything non-organic plastic films do — you can heat-seal it and it preserves the freshness of the product for the same amount of time, with the added benefit of not only being 100% compostable and graded as home-compostable, they are also completely marine biodegradable and disintegrate completely in sea water.
Still, it’s not that simple. The issue with these films is that they’re very flimsy and means that our granola gets easily crushed with the packaging’s lack of structure.
Where to from here?
The only conclusion we could really derive from this whole journey is: research is paramount. Fine print and addendums are hidden everywhere. We’re committed to sustainable packaging and while we may be slower moving and unable to provide the perfect solution right now, it’s something we will continue to strive for.
If you’re an end consumer what options would be most important to you? If you’re a business, have you had similar struggles? We’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment or email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Could this 'biodegradable bag' cut plastic pollution?, BBC, July 2018
What are the required circumstances for a compostable product to compost?, European Bioplastics
UK lacks capacity to deal with biodegradable coffee cups, say industry leaders, Independent, February 2018
A Biodegradable Film May Change How We Currently View and Deal With Plastic Waste, 21st Century Tech, June 2018
NatureFlex, BioMass Packaging
Green food packaging. NatureFlex™, PLA and paper, Charlotte Packaging