The Search for the Perfect Pack
Our Original Kraft Paper Pouches
When we started Little Bird Organics back in 2010, we were young and a little green on experience. Compostable packaging wasn’t a thing, and neither was soft plastic recycling in NZ.
Since we were making dehydrated food products, we needed to source a high barrier packet to properly protect the quality and integrity of our food products which are highly susceptible to moisture and oxygen. But we also wanted packaging which reflected our personal beliefs.
Being a young brand, for us back then, this meant using as little plastic as we could and so we sourced a kraft paper lined plastic pouch from the USA. We thought “at least this means one less plastic layer being used”.
Whats wrong with the kraft paper pouches?
As our company grew, and we started really scrutinising our supply chains and consumables choices, a few things became clear.
- Because of the paper lining our pouches were not recyclable at all.
- The extra weight and thickness of the kraft paper meant international shipping was more energy intensive.
What we had thought was a good choice at the time was actually worse environmentally than a standard plastic pouch.
What have we been doing about it?
In 2015, we started the search for a better solution and over the following years, we've consulted a vast range of industry experts. We have looked at many different packaging solutions including Soft Plastic (# 7 recyclable), Single Layer Plastic (#2 recyclable), Industrial Compostable, Home Compostable, Building waste/Plastic Composites and more – we have run many trials in our efforts to find a better solution.
What we have struggled with is what the food industry in general is continuing to struggle with; There is simply no perfect solution. The entire packaging industry is in a huge state of flux because of the attention this problem is getting.
Everyone is looking for a pack which can meet consumer expectations whilst causing no harm to the environment.
Big industry players are going in opposite directions (Countdown is rejecting compostable - with valid reasons, whereas New World is focusing on compostable).
Little Bird Organics would like to help lead the way to the best solution both within the industry and for consumers. The trouble is knowing what that solution is!
What we do know is that there are definitely better options out there than our kraft paper pouches.
Where are we heading?
We believe the best solution currently available to us is a mix of compostable packs and soft plastic recyclable packs.
Both have their pros and cons and we need our customers to be alongside us with education on how to best deal with each.
Personal responsibility for waste is perhaps the most critical element in the entire waste industry. The choices each of us make as to where a packet goes at the end of its life can have a massive impact. The wrong type of pack placed in a waste stream can cause tonnes of recycling to be dumped to landfill – obviously the worst possible result.
This industry is still very young and there are a number of challenges to overcome, but we believe this has the potential to be the best solution, once a full waste management solution is in place in New Zealand (however, it isn’t yet).
- Packaging is made from plants so there is no plastic required.
- Packaging is compostable and so does not need to go to landfill.
- Home compostable versions are starting to become available.
- Manufacture of the compostable film is difficult and results in 50% material wastage. This material cannot be reused and is discarded.
- Compostable packaging is often thicker and heavier than plastic equivalents, meaning each pack carries more embodied energy to ship it around the world.
- The packets are single use, so no embodied energy is reclaimed (embodied energy = the energy and resources used to create the pack).
- Industrial composting versions (requiring 60deg plus temperatures to break down) have prevailed until recently making it difficult for consumers to access the compost waste stream, and preventing home composting - (Though this is starting to change).
- Compostable packets are not recyclable - any packets that are incorrectly placed in recycling stream cause contamination and result in large volumes of plastic being dumped to landfill.
- There is no significant domestic compost collection infrastructure in place. Where it does exist currently, operators are often refusing to accept compostable packaging waste.
- Home composting isn’t widely practiced (especially in cities).
- Very large order volumes are required, making it hard for small businesses to invest in this technology.
- The packet material is most often only guaranteed for 6 months before it starts to degrade, compromising the shelf life of products.
- The packet materials often struggle to achieve high barriers against moisture and oxygen.
- The industry is young and there is frequent disruption in terms of material availability and technical manufacturing issues.
- Compostable packs are expensive, often 3 or 4 times the price of a conventional equivalent - consumers need to be prepared to share this cost with manufacturers.
We chose Compostable Packaging for our Good Cookies because:
- It is a single use pack which doesn’t require a zip lock or complicated manufacture (so it is easier to achieve with compostable film).
- We could justify the large volumes of packets required for the order and were confident we would use the packs before the material started to degrade.
- Our cookies are more robust and can cope with a reduced barrier protection.
Soft Plastic Packaging
Plastic doesn’t have the best reputation huh?
Unfortunately, we all need to look in the mirror on this one as to why. Global attitudes towards waste, recycling and resource use have been historically abysmal. Had we started the worldwide plastic journey with far more awareness the story could have been a little different. Closing the loop as much as possible with recycling can see a more environmentally successful and responsible plastic industry emerge. This is already underway, but it will take some serious continued effort, from big industry and from individual consumers. Recycling and reuse are key.
SOFT PLASTICS PROS:
- Soft Plastics are recyclable and there are recycling facilities within New Zealand
- Recycling infrastructure is in place, soft plastic collection points are present in most centres
- The packages are lightweight – meaning less embodied energy to transport
- Low minimum orders are possible
- Manufacture waste is recaptured and resold as second-hand resin
- Higher oxygen and moisture barriers are possible
- Long shelf life for packets
SOFT PLASTICS CONS:
- Plastic won’t break down in the environment and can cause contamination in ecosystems and organisms.
We chose Soft Plastic Packaging for our Good Macaroons because:
- The minimum order quantities for compostable pouches were too high – we wouldn’t have been able to use the packs we purchased before they started to degrade, causing a large amount of waste (and cost).
- Macaroons are a staple product for Little Bird and we needed reliability of packaging supply, (we are having consistent supply issues with compostable packaging).
- Soft Plastic Recycling is available again in NZ.
- The barrier properties of the compostable films we trialed were not high enough to protect the quality and integrity of our macaroons.
The packaging industry is very focused on this issue, (much more so than ever before), with developments and improvements happening constantly.
The compostable packaging sector is developing quickest of all. In the last 2 years we have seen a big shift in quality of materials, broader availability and a bigger focus on home compostable versions of the materials used. Councils are starting to engage with the need to set up systems to cope with these materials. Consumers are becoming better educated.
There is a lot of work still to be done, but we hope that within the next two years the industry will have ironed out many of the problems and we will be able to house our entire range in home compostable packaging.
We will continue to keep a very close eye on developments and adjust our plans as we go.
We hope this information has been useful for you and inspires you to take a closer look at your own consumption and recycling habits.
And talk to your other favourite brands – do they have a packaging strategy? What are their values?
The better and more frequent the conversations, the quicker we can move things to a better place.