The U.S. generates almost 80 million tons of packaging waste each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When landfilled or incinerated, this waste pollutes the environment and poses health risks to humans and wildlife. Packaging is also the main source of the plastic pollution that is clogging the ocean and expected to exceed the weight of all fish by 2050 at current rates. The food industry is largely responsible for this growing packaging problem.
About half of the packaging waste in the U.S. comes from food and beverage products. And studies suggest that large food corporations like Nestle and Uniliver generate the majority of the plastic waste
Recognizing this issue, and under pressure from consumers, several of these very same corporations have recently pledged to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging. Many smaller companies in the food and beverage and industry are doing the same, and some of them have been on the forefront of packaging innovations for years. Food Tank highlights 16 food and beverage companies to exhibit the industry's various approaches to sustainable packaging.
Alter Eco set out a decade ago to find sustainable alternatives to the non-recyclable flexible plastic used for their chocolate truffle wrappers and stand-up pouch packaging. After several years of research and development, Alter Eco released the first ever laminated stand-up pouch made of plant-based compostable materials for their quinoa products. For the truffles, Alter Eco now partners with Natureflex to make a compostable wrapper made of eucalyptus and birch trees with microscopic aluminum layers that maintain freshness. The packaging will compost in home and industrial facilities and will biodegrade in the ocean. Alter Eco also uses non-toxic ink on all their packaging. For chocolate bar packaging, Alter Eco uses Forest Steward Council (FSC) certified paperboard that comes from sustainably managed forests.
BOSS Food's vegan superfood bars use compostable wrappers. The wrappers are made by TIPA. TIPA's propriety bio-based blend has all the properties of normal plastic but is certified for industrial and home composting. TIPA conducts shelf-life tests with each brand they work with to ensure the same shelf life as conventional packaging.
Boxed Water is Better
Reusable bottles are the most sustainable way to haul around water. But when that's not an option, Boxed Water is Better offers a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bottles. The 100 percent recyclable box is 75 percent paper. The cap is made of plastic, and the rest is aluminum lining. The packaging is free of BPAs and phthalates. The paper comes from well-managed forests, and they use some of their profits for planting trees in areas affected by deforestation and fires. The boxes flatten for shipping to regional filling locations, reducing the companies carbon footprint by using one truck for every 26 trucks needed for shipping plastic bottles.
Some companies would like to use more sustainable packaging but feel the nature of their product makes it difficult or impossible with available options. Recycling facilities can't accept the flexible plastic pouches Buddy Fruits uses for their small-batch fresh fruit purees. Sustainability is an important part of their brand, but the highly perishable product needs to be as airtight as possible. While searching for a more sustainable and equally secure alternative, BuddyFruits has partnered with TerraCycle. Terracycle collects and recycles hard to recycle products and makes new materials and products. Buddy Fruits customers can request an envelope from TerraCycle to ship-in their empty pouches. Many other food and beverage companies, like White Leaf Provisions, partner with TerraCycle for the same reasons as Buddy Fruits.
Celestial Tea does not use strings, staples, and individual wrappers for its tea bags. The company says these practices prevent 3.5 million pounds of landfill material a year. Celestial's tea bags are compostable, and their outer boxes are made with 100 percent recycled paperboard.
Don Maslow Coffee
Several companies sell coffee in bags that claim to be compostable but are not actually certified for composting. These bags use non-compostable plastic parts to keep them airtight. Fully compostable bags without these parts are also available, but they can't keep the coffee fresh for as long. A couple years ago, Elevate Packaging released the first coffee bag with compostable zippers and valves. Now Dan Maslow Coffee is one of the first to sell products in these certified compostable bags.
Instant meals are convenient in today's busy society, but they use lots of packaging. GF Harvest offers sustainable to-go option with their GoPack oatmeal bowls. The recyclable bowls are made from the IntegraFlex collapsible cup, with a rigid outer carton and an inner liner. The packaging comes flat to save space. When the customer is ready to eat, they prop up the outer layer into a bowl and add hot water. GoPacks come with a wrapped paper spoon that is partially made from FSC certified paper and is recyclable wherever coffee cups are recyclable.
This sustainability-focused yerba mate company is constantly seeking to reduce their packaging's environmental impact. It has been a difficult and on-going process — they identify packaging as the largest contributor to their overall GHG emissions. Almost all of Guyaki's packaging is recyclable bottles and cans, and they sell their loose leaf yerba mate in compostable Natureflex bags. They recently reduced their annual packaging use by 44,000 pounds by eliminating the overwrap and tea string from their single-use mate bags. A large portion of their cans are made of half previously recycled aluminum and use 95 percent less energy than conventional aluminum cans.
Honest Tea has Cradle to Cradle certification on their glass bottles. The certification indicates high marks in several sustainable indicators: use of reutilized materials, water stewardship, material safety, and use of renewable energy. Honest Tea is also in the process of rolling out new Tetra Pak packaging for their line of kids juices. Tetra Pak is 75 percent FSC certified carton, and the rest is a mixture of plastic polymers and aluminum. Numerous studies have found that the life-cycle GHG emissions of Tetra Pak is generally the lowest of packaging types. But not all recycling programs accept mixed material cartons like Tetra Pak, and some that do end up sending the cartons to the dump or incinerator.
Love the Wild
After a year of development and testing, Loving the Wild recently released a compostable tray for their line of ready-to-cook sustainable seafood meals. The tray is certified compostable and made from plant-based plastic. Loving the Wild will come out with a microwaveable version later this year.
Loving Earth's chocolate bar and superfood bar packaging is made with Econic, a compostable film derived from FSC certified wood pulp and non-gmo corn. Their chocolate boxes and line of boxed cereals are made of 100 percent recycled wood fibers. The inner bag of the cereal boxes is made from Econic. All of Loving Earth's products use non-toxic vegetable-based printing ink to prevent contamination of water supplies and compost piles. Loving Earth has also taken a sustainable packaging approach to all most all of their wide range of other products.
Mindful Inc packages their organic tea lines in Tetra Pak with a plant-based cap. Tetra Pak offers this cap as an option to companies utilizing their technology. The cap is made of plastic derived from sugarcane, and its production process has a smaller GHG footprint than conventional plastic caps.
No Evil Foods
No Evil Foods' vegetarian meat alternatives come in compostable packaging made by Kraftpak and are printed with plant-based ink. Previously, No Evil Foods used butcher paper with a non-biodegradable sticker, making it difficult to compost the butcher paper. Kraftpak is a biodegradable unbleached carton board that seals with water-soluble adhesives. The packaging unfolds like origami to mimic the unfolding of butcher paper. Kraftpak is also certified for recycling.
Numi Organic Teas
'Eco-responsible packaging' is part of Numi's environmentally and socially conscious business model. Their efforts include opting for biodegradable non-gmo filter-paper tea bags instead of nylon bags, using boxes made of 85 percent recycled paper products, and using soy-based inks. They are working with 30 other companies to develop the first home-compostable, plant-based, non-gmo material overwrap for tea bags. Also, Numi sells gift boxes made of bamboo, a more sustainable alternative to slower growing trees. In their last annual sustainability audit, Numi calculated that their packaging choices conserved 5,000 trees, 659 thousand pounds of GHG emissions, 4 million gallons of water, and 317 thousand pounds of waste.
The six-pack rings on this brewery's beers are 100 percent biodegradable and edible. Saltwater is one of a handful of breweries now using Eco Six Pack Rings technology. Saltwater makes the rings from barley and wheat ribbons leftover from brewing. The rings compost within a few days. On open land and in the ocean, the rings decompose in a few weeks. The rings are not recommended for consumption, but animals can safely eat them. But if left to decompose in an open area, the rings can still potentially entrap marine life and other animals.
Strauss Family Creamery
For 25 years, Strauss Family Creamery has packaged organic milk in reusable glass bottles made with up to 30 percent recycled glass. Customers can rinse their bottles and return them to the store where purchased to get back a US$2.00 deposit. Strauss then takes the bottles back to their facilities to reuse the bottles an average of five times before recycling them. The company has an 80 percent return rate on bottles, keeping about 500,000 pounds of milk containers and plastic out of landfills each year.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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