In Search of Sustainable Packaging
Did you know it’s Plastic-Free July?
Plastic Free July® is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution. In honour of this special month, we thought this was a great time to talk packages – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Transparency is important to us at HOPE. We want to tell you what we have learned as we have navigated the world of food packages in search of the most sustainable packaging. We also want to explain why we selected the materials we did.
Plastic and Pet Food
The flexible packaging you see when you look at most common pet food packaging is made from plastic. In fact, it is made up of multiple layers of different plastics and is classified under “other plastics” or code #7. These types of packages are very difficult to recycle in most municipalities. The plastics need to be separated before they can be recycled, meaning it almost always ends up in the landfill. Some companies partner up with a third party like Terracycle who are able to deal with difficult to recycle plastics, if customers return the package to a drop-off location.
So What Sustainable Packaging Options Are Out There?
At HOPE we make every decision with as much kindness and evidence possible, so that all living things can live in harmony with the needs of our planet 🌎. When it comes to sustainable packaging however, it is a hard decision. There are simply no perfect solutions. We wish there was, and we will continue investing in promising innovations for the future.
Before making any decisions, the HOPE team investigated a number of different options: biodegradable, recyclable, compostable and more. We found there were pros and cons to all types of packaging. We considered how each option would work for our product, our consumers, and the planet.
Our first instinct was to use compostable packages. We can break down this sustainable packaging in a compost environment, and its elements do not harm the environment. In the case of packaging however, this typically means that the material will break down in an industrial composter with the right conditions – not necessarily in your backyard composter. The benefits?
- Manufacturers produce compostable packages out of natural fibers like cellulose (wood chips that are ground into pulp).
- They do not release microplastics or toxins into our environment, and break down relatively quickly.
- You can sometimes compost them in your back yard (you have to check the specs!).
Sounds great, but we learned that compostables aren’t a silver bullet solution.
- The biggest issue: most organic waste facilities do not recognize these packages. The machines filter them out as plastic if you put them in the green bin and they still end up in the landfill.
- It is difficult for the consumer to properly dispose of them, as many require an industrial composter.
- They can be less sturdy, leading to food loss and ultimately waste.
HOPE currently uses a single-material pouch with no lamination process, classified as code #2. Code #2 or high density polyethylene (HDPE) is one of the easiest plastic polymers to recycle ♻️. We also selected a large format bag to limit the amount of packages we need per volume of food. Why did we opt for this package?
- Depending on your local municipality, you can recycle our flexible packaging and pouches!
- Our packaging is waterproof and more durable than a compostable package, which means none of our product gets wasted. We want to ensure that our pet food reaches your home in perfect condition. That means no water damage, spoilage, or tears in the package. Keep in mind, food waste is also a very unsustainable practice in Canada. In 2019, Canadians wasted more than half of all food produced (35.5 million tonnes). We don’t want to contribute to that waste.
The bad news:
- Some municipalities still do not accept these for recycling. This is because their equipment is unable to decipher the difference between the multi-layer pouch and single layer pouch.
- With the current infrastructure, plastic is still plastic, and encourages a ‘throw away’ mentality.
Ok, but what about “biodegradable” packaging? These are materials that can be broken down by microorganisms into its basic components such as water and carbon dioxide. Buyer beware: we discovered that biodegradable is a catch-all term that can make consumers think a material is ecofriendly. This is not necessarily the case. It can be misleading or contribute to “greenwashing” (making something seem more sustainable than it really is). That is not our vibe at HOPE.
It is really confusing, but think of it this way: all compostable materials are biodegradable, but biodegradable does not necessarily mean compostable.
Bioplastic can be created from organic materials like corn – this does reduce the amount of petroleum used to create the package. Just because a plastic is made of biomaterial, however, doesn’t automatically make it biodegradable. Many bioplastics are identical to traditional plastic and cannot be broken down! Outside of research groups, what is currently called “biodegradable” is a wide variety of products including oxo-degradable. Oxo-degradable plastic breaks down into tiny plastics, which makes it a bigger issue. It is more difficult to recover and wildlife is particularly at risk of ingesting them.
Our Conclusion (For Now)
Ideally, packaging should have all the performance characteristics needed to keep food safe, be bio-based AND biodegradable. However, such a package currently does not exist at the commercial scale for a product like pet food. PLEASE NOTE: If you do know of such a package, please reach out! We have been looking for it everywhere 😊.
Thinking Outside the Box -or- Package!
One exciting way we are reducing our packaging footprint is by partnering with amazing waste-free and refillery stores! This is an awesome solution if you live in the GTA – you can visit one of our partner retailers to pick up HOPE products in your own reusable container. Check out The Green Jar and The Glass Jar to sample some HOPE goodness completely plastic free. We will add more retailers in the near future. Also be sure to check out this blog about other ways you can make ecofriendly and plastic free decisions for your pup!
If you are interested in seeing the magnitude of plastic pollution around the world, we recommend https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution