Landfill-biodegradable packaging materials

Why do we do it? It is a question often asked many business owners. Why go through all the ordeal of running a business and the stress and anxiety it can often bring to owners? Do people do it for the profit they hope to get? Or is it the only field they know how to work in and think they have no other viable options? Or perhaps it is a more idealistic desire to step into a perceived void and make a difference.
The latter is why the owners of Biogone started their business. They had been involved in the clean-up of plastic litter for several years as volunteers and saw what a huge problem plastic waste was rapidly becoming. A product that is cheap to produce, lightweight, durable, and waterproof making it ideal for packaging. But it has a very long-life problem that is causing numerous dire problems worldwide. Originally manufacturers did not want talk about the legacy issue.
However, as time went on, more and more of it accumulated, the problems started to get increasing mainstream attention. The packaging manufacturers came under the spotlight and felt increasing pressure to change their designs or materials from design for functionality to design for life. Design for life now includes factoring in how the packaging, once it becomes waste, is to be taken care of.
The many advantages offered by plastic has made this a difficult problem for many producers and most still avoid the issue. The owners of Biogone took the problem head on and have developed a range of packaging supplies that will biodegrade away when disposed of to a modern landfill.

Nestlé joins the Race to Zero

Nestlé has joined ‘Race to Zero’, the global campaign to mobilize leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy and resilient zero-carbon recovery in the run-up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). The campaign aims to drive a new growth and innovation agenda in support of a more inclusive and resilient economy following the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Race to Zero’ will rally leaders who are committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. All participants will also submit a plan in advance of COP26 and set interim targets in the next decade.

Nestlé is already in the race to zero. The company is accelerating its actions to tackle climate change and has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. Nestlé will publish a roadmap, including interim targets consistent with the 1.5°C path.

Nestlé recognizes that its ability to succeed relies on system-wide changes and urges others to do likewise. It will also require a concerted global effort to ensure the recovery from COVID-19 revives the economy and enables the world to tackle climate change at the same time.

Ahead of his participation in the virtual launch event of ‘Race to Zero’, Mark Schneider, CEO Nestlé, said: “We know the challenge of climate change will not wait, so neither will we. Time is of the essence, and we need quick wins in the short term to build a better future as we recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Nestlé is committed to this cause. We will work with others and use our scale and expertise as well as the power of our brands to drive progress – fast. Building a more sustainable food system will be a core element of the solution to climate change, and we intend to play our part in making this happen.”

‘Race to Zero’ is also working to define the most effective pathways to zero-emission for key sectors such as energy, transport, industry, food, retail, and finance and reach key economic tipping points faster. The new pathways will drive coordinated action by investors, businesses, policymakers, and NGOs.

Woolworths further reduces plastic packaging

Even during the  COVID-19, 70 per cent of Australians are continuing to rank taking care of the planet and making sustainable choices as important to them, according to research revealed by Woolworths Group for World Environment Day.

Woolworths has introduced a number of initiatives to further reduce plastic across a range of fruit and vegetables, including bananas, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, broccolini, sweet potatoes and organic apples.

By moving out of plastic clamshell and into adhesive tape for bananas, replacing rigid plastic trays with pulp fibre on tomatoes, moving to a paper tag on broccolini and reducing plastic film by 30 per cent in weight on carrots and potatoes, Woolworths has removed  237 tonnes of plastic packaging in the past year.

The tray Woolworths uses for its sweet potatoes and organic apples is now made of recycled cardboard, rather than plastic.

Woolworths has also commenced a trial of where it will switch plastic packaging in its Fresh Food Kids range of apples, pears and bananas to easy-to-recycle cardboard boxes.

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said; “Something that was very surprising during COVID was the continued relevance of the environment, with 70 per cent of Australians saying that taking care of the planet and making sustainable choices remained important to them, even at the height of the crisis.

“While we’ve made pleasing progress in reducing the amount of plastic in our stores, supported recycling labelling initiatives, and made improvements in energy efficiency, sustainable sourcing and reducing food waste, we know there is still much more to be done to meet our customers and our own aspirations.” said Banducci.

Since Woolworths removed single-use plastic bags in 2018, more than 6 billion bags have been taken out of circulation. Earlier this week, W oolworths also started to offer paper shopping bags, made out of 70 per cent  recycled paper, for customers to purchase to carry their shopping home in.

In the past year, approx 10,600 shopping trolleys worth of soft plastics have been recycled through its in-store RedCycle program. Woolworths also removed a total of 890 tonnes of plastic from its fruit, vegetables and bakery ranges over the past two years.

This means that all Woolworths stores now have food waste diversion partners in place and in the last year alone, the supermarket has diverted over 33,000 tonnes of food waste from landfill to our food relief partners or donated to farmers as feed stock.

How the F&B sector can address the issue of plastic pollution

The global food system, according to a recent IPCC report into climate change, is responsible for between 21 and 37 per cent of the world’s human-generated greenhouse gas emissions – not a small burden – and the F&B sector is under huge pressure to allay concerns.

Some of this pressure comes from customers, and often focuses on the use of plastic. That comes as no surprise with 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging is produced globally every year and not a small proportion of that ends up in the open environment, where it will fragment into microplastics and lie or float around for decades before it biodegrades, according to Michael Stephen who chairs the OPA (Oxobiodegradable Plastics Association).

“While these concerns are understandable, they do not always lead to responsible decisions,” said Stephen. “Pandering to ‘plastiphobia’ may be one of them. Indeed, a recent UK survey by the Green Alliance found that major brands in the FMCG sector are switching away from plastic regardless of the environmental impact of substitute materials.”

The survey also showed that customers often harbour a deep-seated emotional bias against plastic – one going as far as to describe it as “evil and has no place, regardless of any positives it might have in addressing food waste and what not…”

“This demonisation of plastic appears to be motivating supermarkets to take decisions knowing they could increase rather than reduce environmental burdens,” claimed Stephen. “FMCG retailers should remember that plastic is not only the best material for protecting our food from contamination and preventing food-waste and disease, but it has a much lower global-warming potential than other materials used for packaging, according to LCA’s cited in the report.”

Plastic does not cause any depletion of fossil-resources; it is made from a by-product of refining oil, which is extracted to make fuels, and would be extracted whether plastic existed or not. When the plastic becomes waste and if unsuitable for mechanical recycling, its calorific value can be used to generate electricity if it is sent to modern, non-polluting, thermal-recycling units instead of to landfill

“The only problem with plastic is that it can lie or float around for decades if it gets into the open environment, but this is a problem which can be solved without depriving people of the benefits of the material,” said Stephen. “The scientists who invented plastic designed it to be durable, but they soon realised that this very durability causes a problem if the plastic gets into the open environment as litter. They therefore found a way to make the molecular structure of plastic dismantle automatically by oxidation much more quickly than ordinary plastic, when it had served its purpose. The plastic would then be biodegradable, and they called it oxo-biodegradable plastic. This has now been used and tested all over the world for many years.

“Contrast that with the alternatives. Some supermarkets are shifting to paper, but the report cautions that paper bags have much higher carbon impacts. Also, refillable containers can dramatically reduce the useful life of some products.

“Also problematic is the use of ‘compostable’ plastics. By 2025, Australia aims to ensure that 100 per cent of its packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable, but “compostable” plastic, will only worsen the problem as, by definition (standards: EN13432 and Australian 4736), it has to convert to CO2 not compost.  The last thing the planet needs is more CO2

“It now seems that the industrial composters of Oregon, USA, don’t want it, and they have recently published nine reasons why.  Also the City of Exeter, UK, has in the same month rejected compostable plastic and paper.”

The problem, according to Stephen, is not that there is insufficient plastic going into industrial composting but that too  much plastic getting into the open environment. “Compostable” plastic does nothing to help in that regard, because it is tested according to EN13432 and Australian 4736 to biodegrade in the special conditions found in industrial composting, not in the open environment. By design, therefore, it is not a solution to plastic waste in the environment.













Tea bag plastics cause for concern

After water, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. It is estimated 281 billion litres were consumed in 2019 and this is a trend that is destined to continue to rise.

Around the world, teabags are becoming a staple in many markets. For example, in the UK 96 per cent of tea is purchased in bag form. Even in countries where leaf tea is still commonly consumed, the bag is now the primary method for launching new hot tea products onto the market. In 2017, these amounted to 87 per cent of launches in the North America, 75 per cent in Europe, and even 45 per cent in Asia-Pacific. The key to its success is its convenience.

Teabags have a problem – roughly 25 per cent of the teabag, excluding contents, is plastic. Global Plastic Action Plan (GPAP) estimates 8 million metric tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans every year and that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our seas. Thanks to programs such as BBC ‘Blue Planet’ the issue of plastic is now being recognised by governments and consumers around the world. Currently, the focus is on more obvious sources of plastic – single-use straws, water bottles and other food contact products. Stakeholders need to be aware, however, that the focus could soon shift towards items such as teabags.

READ MORE: Plastics save on wear and tear

In the UK, around 60.2 billion cups of tea are estimated to be consumed every year, with most being from teabags. Roughly 96 per cent of UK teabags use non-biodegradable polypropylene in their construction. This will be released into the environment if the teabags are not incinerated after disposal.

As a substance, polypropylene is already targeted in many markets to reduce its use. Under the EU’s ‘Single-Use Plastics Directive’, (EU) 2019/904, plastic use is already being addressed in food contact materials such as cutlery, plates, and straws. The ban will begin in 2021. No national ban exists in the US but several local jurisdictions have introduced bans. Even China has begun to introduce measures to restrict the use of single-use plastic, starting with straws.

Teabag manufacturers and brands should be aware of the way regulations are being used to reduce plastic use and stay alert to the possibility that it will affect them in the future. At the same time, they need to be aware that consumers are increasingly demanding more environmentally friendly products with less plastic.

The difficulty for manufacturers is that the meaning of ‘plastic-free’ is not always clear. Some brands are already claiming their teabags are ‘plastic free’ but this could refer to the use of polylactic acid (PLA), an alternative to polypropylene. PLA is a bio-plastic made from plant materials instead of oil. The problem is, many experts, and Directive (EU) 2019/904, consider bio-plastics to still be a form of single-use plastic.

True alternatives to plastic are, at the moment, rather limited. Obviously, there is the option to use leaf tea. Manufacturers can also stitch their bags together using cotton thread. Other attempts have so far proved to be problematic. One manufacturer is currently working with Sheffield University to design a teabag that will be classed as ‘industrially compostable’ but not ‘plastic-free’. This means it could go for food and garden waste recycling, but the heat generated in a domestic compost heap would not be high enough to break it down.

Creating a truly plastic-free teabag is proving to be difficult but that does not mean regulators and consumers will not begin to turn their attention to the amount of plastic in teabags in the future. There is already a clear advantage among consumers in being able to promote a product as ‘plastic-free’, even if this means free from oil-based plastics.

Stakeholders are now advised to consider the way markets are likely to develop in the future in order to remain compliant with regulations and gain competitive advantage.

Little Green Panda and Stroh tackle drinking straw issue

Two Australian companies offering competing products, Little Green Panda and Stroh, have joined forces in a bid to eliminate disposable plastic straws from the food service industry by replacing them with compostable, plant-based alternatives made from wheat stems.

Sharing a mutual commitment to eradicating single-use plastics in the retail and hospitality industries, Manon Beauchamp-Tardieu and Teresa Aylott, of Little Green Panda and Strohrespectively, have now become leaders in the plant-based product industry, selling a combined 1.3 million wheat stem straws to seven countries with a growth rate of 250 per cent in monthly sales.

“We are so excited to bring together our knowledge, resources, established relationships and most importantly, our passion, to tackle the pervasive problem of single-use plastics within the retail and hospitality industries. We believe our business is more than just selling sustainable straws, we are driving a movement to reduce waste,” says Manon Beauchamp-Tardieu.

READ MORE: New glass technology to replace straws?

Committed to being a zero waste business, Little Green Panda’s straws are predominantly made from wheat stems, considered an agricultural waste product but when turned into a resource that is 100% compostable, non-toxic, plastic free, gluten free and soggy free, making it a friendly alternative to both the environment and the consumer.

“We want our business to restore and replenish the environment, not deplete it,” says Teresa Aylott.

The company also makes straws from bamboo and sugar cane, with both options compostable and proving to be popular functional alternatives to plastic.

Focusing on the commercial mass use of plastic and paper straws, the duo has already made a mark globally, working with wholesalers and distributors across Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy and Hong Kong with clients including Marriott Hotels, Sofitel, Hilton Hotel, Attica, and Australian Liquor Marketers. Little Green Panda also supplies to 50 supermarkets in France and are in talks with major supermarkets in Australia.

Manufacturing currently takes place on the borders of Mongolia; however, the company is hoping to eventually move the manufacturing process to Australia. Off the back of Global Table, Asia Pacific’s largest international agri-food innovation event where Stroh was an exhibitor, Little Green Panda are now in talks with a major scientific organisation to research the machinery which would allow for local manufacturing as well as farmers around Australia to produce the straws.

Already seeing exponential growth, the company hopes to continue along this trajectory, eventually taking control of the entire supply chain and expanding their sustainable product offering beyond straws.

AquaRush bottling facility designed to meet expanding industry needs

Bottled water has been a refreshment for Australians for the best part of three decades. According to a recent IBISWorld report, the industry in Australia for the past five years through to 2018-19 was valued at just over $700 million, and is expected to grow by 0.8 per cent over the next year. IBISWorld believes this is due to Australians becoming more health conscious and the rise of disposable incomes, especially among millennials.

One company that has been at the forefront of the bottled water and mixed beverage development is AquaRush. Established in 2014 by serial entrepreneur Roshan Chelvaratnam, AquaRush offers various types of water –ranging from spring, sparkling, mineral, demineralised and mixed beverages.

The company combines various technologies and manufacturing facilities, with the intent of reshaping the future of bottled water in Australia and the world.

It has a new HACCP, GMP and ISO-accredited automated bottling and commercial facility that uses a range of technologies to produce the finest quality water products for the consumer and industrial markets at an affordable price point.

It is capable of filling 15,000 350ml bottles per hour and has both PET and glass-filling lines.

The company has existing distribution channels in Australia, APAC, South Africa and the Middle East.

READ MORE: Poor water quality linked to sugary drink consumption

The company has a quality management system that continuously monitors its products to make sure they meet Australian regulatory guidelines, standards and codes of practice. Chelvaratnam is the founder and managing director of the company.

Over the past few years he has built a number of successful businesses across the automotive, import, export and wholesale, electrical, and now beverage market.
“We’re focussed on developing innovative products that cater to people’s diverse lifestyles and interests; new product categories include premium sparkling water, high alkaline water and black sparkling water, to name a few,” said national sales manager Marko Powell. “We offer different variances of water to cater to the customer’s needs.

“We strive to remain at the forefront of innovation with the latest advances in water filtration. We bottle volcanic water, exotic sparkling water, flavoured water, commercial water and more.”

One area that the company doesn’t spare any expense is investing in the training and development of its staff.

Each quarter it offers skills-based training in a specialised area relevant to each role so the company’s staff are learning and developing their knowledge base.

“We’ve also invested in encryption technology allowing our water bottles to be scanned from a smartphone app,” said Powell. “This app links to a product landing page authenticating the product, digitising the experience and allowing consumers to interact with the product they’re purchasing.”

Sustainability is also a buzz word that is gaining traction in the food and beverage industry. This is something that AquaRush is serious about, with it setting itself goals that will mean less plastic in landfills.

“Since 2018, we have implemented 66 per cent recycled plastic bottles and recycled cardboard,” said Powell. “Our goal is to work towards 100 per cent recyclable packaging and we are on track to doing so.

“We use 20 per cent glass in our overall brand portfolio and we aim to increase this to 50 per cent by mid 2020. Progress against our sustainability goals is discussed during senior leadership meetings each quarter.

“Beyond these meetings, the executive committee members are committed to executing against these goals, driving their importance within their immediate staff.”

When it comes to philanthropy, the company knows that giving back to the community is just as important as reducing its carbon footprint.

“We’ve donated money to help rebuild an orphanage for disabled children in Sri Lanka,” said Powell. “The aim of the orphanage is to provide a safe and caring environment for these children who would otherwise be forgotten.”

As well as producing a range of water products under various labels including the I Am, Kangaroo & Koala Aqua Downunder critters, and AquaRush 2Pure Water brands, the company provides private label production services to other companies within the water industries.

AquaRush also supports the World’s first plant-based natural water, and which most recently won the Beverage of the Year Award at the 2019 Food & Beverage Industry Awards, as well as the Global Zenith Awards.

They are also the exclusive water partner to Global Table, which is hosted by Seeds & Chips, the global food organisation.

“The Team at AquaRush is excited to enter into a joint venture partnership with award-winning company Aqua Botanical Beverages from September 2019,” said Chelvaratnam.

“Aqua Botanical has won “Beverage of the Year” two years running and Aqua Rush will be bottling their ‘still’ and ‘sparking’ water products. Our alliance further reinforces our position as a bottler of choice in the industry.

“We will be at Food and Beverage Show displaying Botanical Water and many other fantastic products at our stand. Join us at J31 at the Sydney Fine Foods Exhibition to meet the team and discuss potential private label options and future product development opportunities.”