Though there has been progress in the sustainable packaging space when it comes to new materials, design innovation, and access, consumers are demanding more environmental commitments from their chosen brands.
In its newly released Ready-to-Eat Report on consumer behavior and convenience eating, good natured® found that 77% of consumers say sustainable packaging is a top priority when shopping for food, but 43% of them expect businesses to take on the responsibility of providing environmentally friendly packaging.
good natured Products Inc. (good natured®), a Vancouver-based biotech company making packaging from plants, may be one of the fastest growing companies in BC that you’ve never heard of. With 900% revenue growth from 2019 to 2022, the company has experienced explosive growth helping to bridge the gap between technology and businesses seeking more sustainable packaging solutions.
We sat down with Paul Antoniadis, CEO of good natured®, to discuss what businesses and consumers can do to shift away from fossil fuels and take the first step toward packaging made from renewable materials.
First off, we know that there’s more attention being paid to environmental issues now more than ever, and consumers are being more eco-conscious in their day-to-day lives. What is the impact of sustainable packaging on the planet and how easy is it to make a change?
PA: Anyone can take the first step toward using more sustainably made packaging. At good natured®, we’re here to help brands and retailers reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and use more renewable plant-based ingredients in their packaging. Recognizing the absence of a “one size fits all” sustainable material, we provide our customers a choice of plant-based materials and packaging designs tailored to specific sustainability, waste management and performance needs.
We often advise our customers that it’s easier to make the switch by taking the “one step at a time” approach when starting to transition to more sustainable packaging. The other benefit we bring to the table is to work with businesses to design custom packaging with enhanced protection features that can extend shelf life and reduce food waste. This, along with our integrated North American supply chain, means we can often be cost neutral.
There’s a lot of confusion and “greenwashing” claims about different end-of-life material options in packaging. What’s the difference between compostable, biodegradable, and recyclable products?
PA: The terms “biodegradable” and “compostable” are often used interchangeably, but this is unfortunately not accurate. Only products that are certified compostable using industry standard testing will break down in natural elements within a set timeframe. In the case of commercially compostable packaging, which is the most prevalent currently on the market, packaging will break down in a commercial composting facility into usable soil within 180 days. This regimented testing and regulated timeframe is the big difference between the terms “certified compostable” and “biodegradable”. Although biodegradable indicates that the product will break down into natural elements, there is no standardized testing or independent certifications currently available to put parameters around it. So “biodegradable” is a very loose term.
As for recyclable products, technically any type of plastic material that can be reheated and reshaped can be collected and reused. We use as much recycled content in our own bioplastic blends as we can in our manufacturing facilities, for example. However, what people are often referring to when they say “recyclable” is what’s accepted in the blue bin. In that case, because recycling services vary greatly by region, not every facility has the infrastructure or aftermarket to sort through and recycle all plastics. For the time being, recycling is largely limited to #1 PET and #2 HDPE in many markets, but we’re hopeful this will expand in the future.
What should businesses consider when it comes to the regulatory aspects of sustainable packaging?
PA: Packaging regulations are on the rise, and plastic packaging is a hot topic for many of our customers. We try to simplify the intricacies by breaking regulations down into two categories: they’re generally focused on creating positive environmental impact by introducing guidelines to use more renewable resources and/or recycled content, or they focus on the items that are stressing their waste management systems, like straws and microplastics.
It’s important for businesses to look at their distribution as some areas and industries favor compostable options, such as campuses or hotels with closed loop waste systems, while others favor curbside recyclable materials, like our Bio-PET. For example, the recently updated British Columbia “Single-Use and Plastic Waste Prevention Regulations” address waste management challenges with what they have deemed to be “hard-to-recycle” plastics, specifically related to take-out and delivery foodservice items. In this case, commercially compostable PLA has unfortunately been labeled as a Class A prohibited material, but this has more to do with the state of the recycling and composting infrastructure in BC rather than an issue with the PLA material itself.
Can design play a role in making a package more sustainable? How?
PA: We’re big believers that design plays a very important complementary role to packaging material when a business is looking to switch to more sustainable packaging. At good natured®, we design our containers to consider a spectrum of benefits, including considering where product visibility can increase sales and reduce opened packaging, perimeter seals with strong oxygen barriers to prolong shelf life, and custom fitted compartments to reduce food damage and transportation footprints. Customizing designs has been one of our important differentiators so that we can provide our customers with a cost neutral solution when taking all these factors into account.
What are some other benefits to sustainable packaging besides environmental considerations?
PA: Another element of our value proposition is to remove chemicals from packaging materials that have been deemed potentially harmful to human health and the environment. All good natured® eco-friendly food packaging is free from chemical additives like BPAs, phthalates, PFAS, and phytoestrogens, which means there is no leaching of chemicals into the packaged food or the environment. We’ve even created new GoodToGo™ microwavable containers that are BPI certified compostable, top shelf dishwasher safe for reuse, and designed to take the heat without compromising on food safety.
Finally, what do you predict for the future of the plant-based packaging industry?
PA: Innovations in the packaging industry, especially around the use of renewable materials and recycling, will continue to make significant strides in the coming years. With the ongoing and heightened global conversation about protecting our environment, research and development efforts focused on innovating eco-friendly technologies will continue to increase.
We often reference the trajectory of the car industry. For years, electric vehicles were at the cutting edge and not in wide distribution. However, as infrastructure and awareness has grown, the tipping point where electric vehicles will become the norm rather than the exception is now visible on the horizon. The signals are there that the plant-based packaging industry is set to evolve in a very similar way.