New Zealand is considered a clean and green country, and although traditional plastic packaging is widely accepted by nearly all local government recycling schemes, we know that approximately 40% of recyclable plastic, and 58% of packaging, still ends up in a landfill. Even if plastic is recycled, the same piece of plastic can only be recycled roughly 2-3 times before it’s quality decreases to the point where it can no longer be used.
It’s no secret that a lot of products that we think are recyclable and put into our recycling bins, actually end up in a landfill. While the NZ media has waged a war against plastic and is in favour of products that are perceived as more environmentally friendly, e.g compostable packaging, in some cases, this is just adding to the problem, further highlighting that all packaging options have their pros and cons.
Why do we need packaging?
Packaging’s primary role is to protect the integrity of the product. Two Islands originally started with plastic packaging, but due to customer feedback to be plastic free, we changed our tubs to recycled paper lined with aluminium foil to keep the product fresh and free from moisture. Paper alone is porous and doesn’t perform as well at maintaining the quality of our products. Other measures we took were converting to using vegetable based inks, environmentally friendly glue and plant-based stickers to seal the lid.
Our packaging journey
In 2022, we've made progress in sourcing and using more sustainable packaging. Our tubs are now produced in NZ. While they still require mixed materials of paper and foil to protect the integrity of the product, once disassembed the paper and the metal tops are recyclable through community recycling programmes. Our protein sachets are now soft plastic - empty, clean, dry sachets can be dropped off at soft plastic recycling bins at select NZ supermarkets. We're committed to finding the best packaging that protects our products, protects you and protects the environment, and there's always room for improvement.
Let’s take a closer look at the most common types and why we chose our packaging solutions.
A new and exciting industry that is promising, but still overcoming a number of challenges. In NZ there are still no standards for biodegradable or compostable packaging
- Packaging is made from plants making it 100% plastic free
- It’s compostable so it avoids going into landfill.
- Home compostable versions are starting to become available making it easier for consumers.
- Home composting isn’t widely practiced (especially in cities) and if consumers do not have a home compost and home compostable packaging ends up in landfill, it could release methane - a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide - in the same way food waste does.
- Commercially compostable packaging only breaks down in commercial facilities under a constant set temperature of 55℃ or higher.
- There are only 12 industrial and three community composting facilities in New Zealand making it hard for consumers to easily use.
- Compostable packaging is often thicker and heavier than plastic equivalents which increases a company's carbon footprint as it uses more energy to transport.
- The packets are single use and not recyclable, so unless used properly by the consumer, any packets that are incorrectly placed in recycling cause contamination and result in large volumes of plastic being dumped to landfill.
- The structures used to enable home compostable packaging to break down in home compost can start to degrade after 6 months compromising the shelf life of products.
- Compostable packaging is around 3 to 4 times more expensive than conventional packaging, a cost which most businesses are not able to absorb and will need to pass on a portion to the end user.
The general thought is that paper is more environmentally friendly as it can be recycled and will eventually break down due to its basic elements. But, the environmental impacts of this material are widely misunderstood.
- If sourced properly paper can be made from sustainably farmed forestry.
- Most paper packaging can be recycled curbside which makes it easy for people to dispose of.
- The energy used to create paper is more than 4x that of plastic.
- The process to recycle paper is extensive as you need to collect it, sort it, wash it, purify, flatten, dry, colour and bleach it before the paper can be packaged and sent out again.
Although it may seem that plastic is on its way out with many companies using other packaging alternatives, plastic products are still everywhere. There is a lot of information currently circulating about plastic, but what is the truth behind this staple of modern life?
- It takes 91% less energy to recycle a plastic bag than it does a paper bag.
- A plastic bag can carry 2,500x its own weight and is resistant to changes in the weather. Hot, cold, wet and dry temperatures won’t damage plastic as much as it will paper or cardboard.
- The use of plastic packaging can help improve the life cycle of food. Individually packaged products can mean less food is wasted and as a result a reduced carbon footprint for that product. Plastic is still the best way to reduce food wastage.
- Plastic products are often more re-usable than their paper alternatives.
- Plastic is lightweight – meaning less energy to transport
- Soft plastic can be recycled at select NZ supermarkets.
- Single use bags are used for an average of 12 minutes but can take up to 1000 years to degrade.
- Plastic is made using chemicals produced in the process of making fuel which further contributes to CO2 emissions
- Often plastics may be degradable but all that means is that smaller bits of plastic are left in the environment.
- Some plastics can be quite difficult to recycle in New Zealand and as a result most end up in landfill.
Glass can be reused, recycled and repurposed. We used it to package our newest product, Milk Maker, using an aluminium lid which is fully recyclable. However, we are aware that this isn’t a perfect solution as glass is heavier than paper and plastic, meaning it requires more energy to produce and ship, raising our carbon footprint. We also use FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) paper for the Milk Maker box as opposed to virgin paper. What does that mean? FSC is an organisation that works to promote the practice of sustainable forestry worldwide by giving customers the option to choose forest products like paper and wood that have been sourced in an environmentally-friendly, socially responsible and economically viable manner.
- Glass has an almost zero rate of chemical interaction meaning it keeps the aroma, flavour, and strength intact.
- It’s nonporous and impermeable, ensuring your product doesn’t spoil. For this same reason, glass packaging keeps your food safe from mould.
- Glass is 100% recyclable.
- The same glass bottles can be used for the same products again and again after industrial cleaning.
- Though glass is a strong material, it’s also fragile and hazardous.
- Glass packaging is comparatively heavy compared to other packaging which increases a company's carbon footprint when it comes to shipping.
- Glass packaging is comparatively expensive.
As you can see, it’s challenging to find a balance with choosing the right packaging when it comes to protecting the product as well as offering customers user-friendly options.
Despite the limitations of our recycling systems and infrastructure, our partnership with TerraCycle has allowed us a guaranteed zero-landfill recycling programme for our customers in New Zealand. Two Islands packaging will now be repurposed into products such as outdoor furniture and children’s playgrounds, closing the loop and keeping our products in circularity.