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The grey area of packaging

When we first decided to create a natural and environmentally-friendly protein brand, it was a ‘no-brainer’ that the packaging had to align with our values of minimum waste. We didn’t want to use packaging that was used once, binned and then hanging around the planet for thousands of years. But as we started to investigate the packaging options available, it quickly became obvious that selecting environmentally-friendly packaging isn’t clear-cut. Here’s why.

Compostable solutions seem to be the holy grail of packaging. Compostable effectively means it’s made of organic matter and can completely break-down to make nutrient rich compost in the right environmental conditions, typically within just a few months. Sounds perfect right? Sadly not! Even compostable solutions have their drawbacks. If you don’t have a home compost, which most of the population don’t, then compostable packaging becomes an interloper – it’s not accepted in the green waste bin or the recyclable bin. The majority of local authorities won’t accept compostable packaging in either their garden waste or food waste collections because of the risk of contamination. Compostable packaging is also not recyclable and if it enters the recycling system, it will contaminate all the other materials, meaning that the whole batch is ruined. So the fallback for many is to put compostable packaging in the normal waste for disposal in landfill. But as with other organic matter in landfill, it gives off methane as it degrades.

Currently, there are very few food-grade compostable packaging solutions that are fully compostable (including any zip lock mechanism). But as more companies look to develop these solutions, a greater number of compostable packaging options will enter the market, so keep your eyes peeled!

Biodegradable packaging is another alternative to single-use plastic, but as with compostable materials, it’s not ‘whiter than white’. Biodegradable means that it’s capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, however once decomposed, this doesn’t mean that it’s good for the planet. Biodegradable plastic bags, for instance, will decompose down into tiny pieces of plastic in about twenty years’ time. Some will argue that these tiny pieces are even more harmful than a single plastic bag as they are more easily consumed by animals. Also, biodegradable items that get completely buried in landfill with no exposure to bacteria, heat, oxygen, moisture or light, may not decompose at all and so are no better than single-use plastics.

Paper pouches are also an option. As with conventional paper products, it’s fully recyclable and so is an appealing packaging solution. But the down side of a paper pouch is that it’s porous and so won’t keep foods protected from external elements. This is a big problem!

And so we finally come to plastic containers. These days, plastic is demonised but not all plastics are evil, with some far kinder to the environment than others. Single-use plastics should be avoided and in their place, recyclable and reusable plastics should be used instead. High-Density Polyethylene is currently the most recyclable plastic around and so is the angel among plastics. Look for HDPE or PEHD symbols with the recycling symbol 2 and when you’ve finished reusing the container, simply pop it into the household recycling bin.

So, it’s not always easy making smart environmental choices. There is a definite grey area when it comes to packaging, however so long as we understand the pros and cons of each packing solution and then make the best choice we can, we’re heading in the right direction!

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