Plastic Free Packaging – Summer Update

Botanical Collection Group

The damaged caused to the oceans and our environment by single use plastic packaging is finally big news after the wonderful series Blue Planet II.

We have been fortunate to visit cocoa plantations on the wonderful island of Madagascar and the Carribean Island of Grenada. Connecting with the farmers and producers made us realise what a small and perfect planet we live on and the need to protect it for our future.

Plastic free packaging is something we’ve been working towards for three years, but it’s not as easy you might think. So we thought we’d update you on our progress and work still to do.

Old materials are sometimes better

For our Victorian Christmas Orange this year we’ve resorted to an older man made material – cellophane. Not to be confused with petrochemical based plastic film often referred to as cellophane. Many people do not realise that cellophane is plant based. The “cello” in cellophane stands for cellulose – the structural component of plants. Invented by Jacques E. Brandenberger in 1900, cellophane will fully biodegrade in 10 days if exposed to a freshwater environment.

It’s not all good news as chemicals are required to create cellophane, though the processing involved in turning petrochemicals derived from crude oil into plastics greatly surpasses that which is involved in creating bio-plastics. Not to mention the affects we’ve all seen from plastic in our oceans.

The use of cellophane has also passed into bag making. Customers may have noticed that some years ago we switched from polypropylene silver bottom bags for our Chocolate crisps to more expensive craft based Nature Flex bags. These are also supplied by us for use on our chocolate counter at Gloucester Services.

Nature Flex Cello bags are produced from wood cellulose fibres gathered through sustainable forestry practices. The cellophane wraps are carbon zero, certified biodegradable and compostable. So that’s another small step.

Surely buyers have been asking for Plastic Free packaging for some time?

Well actually – surprisingly not!

As recently as last year we had a conversation with a department store buyer who thought that our Hot Chocolate Spoons were better in a clear plastic box though we had spent nearly a year designing a smaller single piece box with a compostable window.

But what about the environment we said? At that point in time it wasn’t a consideration – all that counted were sales and we were considered an ethical supplier facing the difficulties that many ethical suppliers do. Though it may be changing now as the public perception changes. The truth is that when we shop we often want to see the product inside the packaging, particularly if it’s an expensive food item. If it’s a gift people want it in a luxury and usually large box. All of the things counter productive to environmentally friendly packaging.

We make the grand gesture with a large box of chocolates

One of the main differences between success and failure in food brands is packaging and branding. 

So consumer demand will need to drive the buyers. 

Well the Packaging manufacturers must be onto this?

Well actually – not really!

Most of them seem to have been caught napping. There are a few new companies that have pionered plant based compostable packaging. We have these new  compostable bags in our chocolate bar range launched last year and to seal our chocolate collections. We’ll shortly be launching a new botanical range again utilising plant based bags for fully compostable packaging. As new biodegradeable materials appear we switch to them, though they are usually more expensive and harder to source. Bubblewrap is a good example. We’ve used biodegradeable bubblewrap for several years but it is much more expensive than standard  bubblewrap.

But many of the traditional manufacturers are in disarray. For some time we’ve wanted to replace our chocolate box trays with a biodegradable alternative. We approached our current supplier, who are UK based and a fabulous company to work with. Disappointingly their response was…

We have enough trouble with thermoform manufacturers without asking them to use biodegradability materials

I think that’s the Ostrich approach!

It’s been interesting to follow the sheer panic in the Packaging News monthly editions since Blue Planet II aired. The finger of blame is pointed everywhere from lack of technology in recycling centres to the general public. 

The packaging industry has really reacted too late. Though if your entire product line is based on a plastic solution it’s clearly not easy to turn on a penny. 

And the future?

We aim to have all of our packaging plastic free by 2020. Many of our chocolates already are with our Chocolates Bars, Lickable Spoons, Chocolate Crisps, Soon to be launched Botanical range and our Christmas Victorian Orange in biodegradeable packaging. We’re working on our Easter range for 2019 and the plan is to make that plastic free which is a challenge. Our chocolate boxed collections too are a current work in progress.

If you have any thoughts or manufacture biodegradeable packaging you think we should know about do let us know.

Matthew