We all need to be more environmentally-conscious these days, but making the right decisions on packaging and consumables for your food business is not straightforward. With so much information available on material-types, recyclability and re-usability, it's hard to know what the best options are for going green. We've reached out to Disposable Green for a few insights on making more conscious packaging decisions.
Packaging Production and Recycling Considerations
Are certain packaging and consumables materials more recyclable than others?
Let's put it this way, Eco-friendly, Biodegradable and Compostable are terms which are widely mis-used these days. Products can be biodegradable and compostable but most of them need specialist industrial processing facilities to be biodegraded and composted.
Take PLA (plant-based plastic) for example, much hyped as compostable - but in reality, it can only be composted in temperature-controlled industrial composting facilities. Straws that are made from paper, but lined with PLA also require processing at dedicated facilities. In reality, only a small amount of PLA-containing products in the UK are actually sent to facilities like this. Most councils still ask for the biodegradable PLA items to be packed in a recycling bag rather than placed in food composting or garden waste.
What about on the production-side, certain materials must be better for the environment to manufacture?
By-and-large, any packaging items that are made from 100% naturally-occurring materials, which can be returned to nature without using any chemicals, processing facilities or additives are the most environmental friendly. Certain materials, whilst being predominately made from readily-available natural inputs still have some environmental issues. White Bagasse, used for making paper plates, is produced from the dry, fibrous residue that remains after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed for juice extraction. However the manufacturing process involves chemical bleaching to produce the white colour, and bleaching involves the usage and disposal of harmful chemicals (e.g. sodium chlorite & acetic acid) and not to mention lots of treated water!
Alternatives to Plastic and Bagasse
You guys offer products that are made of out Areca Palm leaves, can you tell us more about that?
Areca leaf tablewares are made from the naturally fallen leaves of Areca palm trees. The fallen leaves are collected, soaked, cleaned, then heat moulded into different shapes by force press machine. When all of the moisture has been squeezed out, the formed containers or plates will retain their shape.
How specifically are products made from Areca Palm leaves better than compostable plastics or materials made from other natural products?
In terms of recyclability, Areca Palm leaf-based products can be composted in home composting, or can be collected with food or garden waste for council processing. They will naturally biodegrade into compost within 6-8 weeks, they do not need specialist industrial facilities and don't contain chemicals which can leach into the environment.
On the production side, unlike other products which are based on natural inputs, Areca leaf-based product manufacture does not involve chemical-processes like bleaching or the use of additives such as colourants or binding agents.
Are trees down to harvest the leaves?
No trees are cut down to make our plates. All our products are made from naturally fallen leaves, which makes these products one of the few which employs 100% renewable resources.
That's great, but what about the practical considerations for packaging, like robustness, re-heating or customisation?
The tablewares are strong and durable, so they will retain their strength from wet or hot food for the standard duration of a meal - we suggest about 20-30 mins depending on the food temperature. Customer feedback has exceeded these claims, so we are confident in the robustness of the product. They can be used to reheat food in a microwave and will withstand oven temperatures of 160-180ºC for 35-45 minutes.
Products are only available in their natural colour, but we think they look great au naturel! As we mentioned above, we do not believe in artificially colouring products as that involves use of bleaching and chemicals.
All of the products can be branded at a production stage, subject to a minimum order. This can just be your logo, a printed self-adhesive label. Although, the type of branding will depend upon the product type and quantities you need.
What other environmentally-conscious choices can vendors (and customers) make when choosing their packaging and consumables?
Bamboo straws are a great eco-alternative to plastic straws or paper straws lined with PLA (see above) and can be reused indefinitely in order to cut down on waste. They are biodegradable, durable and are suitable for all types of drinks, hot or cold. Our Bamboo straws come with a cleaning brush too to keep the straws clean and hygienic on the inside and are dishwasher safe.
Thanks to Disposable Green for all their help in putting together this article, you can check out their range of products at disposablegreen.co.uk