Going 'Beyond Organic' and providing truly sustainable, recyclable, biodegradable and compostable packaging with low environmental impact is becoming an important achievement for companies selling certified organic food and personal care products. Organic & Wellness News' Warren Beaumont spoke with two US organic companies that are leading the way in biodegradable and compostable packaging.
California, US-based organic tea company Numi Tea will be launching the industry’s first non-GMO, non-corn-based completely compostable packaging for its tea bag wraps in March 2018, starting with its Moroccan Mint and Aged Earl Grey teas.
"We’re excited to be removing the industry-standard plastic lining, which provides freshness, in favor of a completely plant-based solution," says Brian Durkee, chief operations officer at Numi Tea.
While the new material itself doesn’t change the look, and feel of the tea bags significantly, Numi Tea is still in the process of bag updates, with the tea bag wraps likely have some messaging to signify that the wraps are compostable.
As customer demand grows for fully sustainable or recyclable food packaging and socially responsible products, Numi says it has always been passionate about the sustainability of all aspects of its product and business practices and has been moving towards the goal of having a product where all elements can safely return to the earth.
"While our consumers have indeed been asking for this in recent years, fully recyclable and compostable packaging is something the leadership of our company has been pursuing for many years, and can now make viable without compromising quality or raising costs," Mr. Durkee says.
"All components of our packaging have been substantiated to break down completely in the environment. We are also in the process of substantiating in marine environments and feel confident in the material’s ability," said Mr. Durkee.
"The new material utilizes greater than 50 percent post-consumer waste, alongside paper and plant-based materials. If all the new wrappers are indeed recycled, there is potential to avert 15 metric tons of waste from the landfill annually."
Mr. Durkee adds that more broadly, Numi has been dedicated to sustainability in its packaging since the beginning – eliminating the use of shrink wrap, converting to soy-based inks, and using 90 percent post-consumer recycled material for its tea boxes.
"We are also updating our tea bag design to remove the use of staples making the tea bags more easily compostable," he says.
Numi Tea sees the launch of its compostable tea bag overwraps as a significant event and follows from when one of Numi Tea's founders and CEO, Ahmed Rahim, started a group of natural products industry leaders, One Step Closer to an Organic Sustainable Community (OSC2), in part to tackle the problem of there not being an affordable, non-GMO or petroleum-based compostable material on the market.
The Compostable Packaging Collaborative of OSC2 is a group of companies looking for good home-compostable packaging that has pooled together resources and willpower to make this new material viable.
Thinking outside the plastic pouch
California-based organic company Alter Eco Foods launched its Gone4Good™ compostable pouch packaging two years ago, which is currently available at a commercial level for its quinoa products, sold for now only in the US. "Gone4Good is the first compostable stand-up pouch made from renewable, plant-based, non-GMO materials. We are calling it Gone4Good because it goes back to where it came from when its useful life is over. With zero waste," Alter Eco says.
The company also introduced chocolate truffles packed in fully compostable wrappers made from sustainably forested birch and eucalyptus. Composting should be done in commercial/industrial compost facilities only. If consumers have a commercial compost program in their area, they can toss their Gone4Good pouch in the green bin (food-waste compost bin), and their local waste management will take care of the rest.
The biggest challenge for successful home composting for packaging, and other things like fat, grease, and meats, is often due to not reaching the right temperatures, or not having enough carbon and yard waste to absorb the moisture. This imbalance can make for an inhospitable environment for the organisms, causing them to die off or become dormant.
"All organic materials will eventually decompose. The success and speed with which biodegradable or compostable packaging will fully decompose depends on several factors, including what the organic material is, the diversity of the decomposer organisms involved, the size and surface area of the material, the carbon to nitrogen ratio, and other general requirements for a thriving microbial community (water, oxygen, and high temperatures to name a few)."
"For our truffle wrappers and the Gone4Good™ compostable pouches, we make sure to list on the packaging that it is for commercial compost facilities only, and not suitable for home composting," Alter Eco says.
"Another benefit of the compostable truffle wrappers and the quinoa pouch is that we use non-toxic, environmentally friendly inks which do not leach any unwanted chemicals into the earth when they are breaking down."