Raising the bar on renewable packaging, and why non-negotiable values matter…

by Dan Kurzrock February 06, 2017

Raising the bar on renewable packaging, and why non-negotiable values matter…

When we set out to launch a business that positively impacts our planet, our goal began with a model built around “upcycling” the byproduct from the beer industry as a food ingredient.

Our first line of products: ReGrained “Eat Beer.” Bars, crafted from upcycled brewer’s grain. This is the first of many applications that we are bringing to market, from savory to sweet that we are developing to become the bridge between the brewing industry and food system.

 

So, by closing this nutrient loop, it would seem our business is thus inherently “sustainable”…right?

Not necessarily. There is a much larger ecosystem that we must consider as entrepreneurs— from our supply-chain partnerships, to our production process, to our distribution channels. With each management decision, there will always be a multitude of factors and tradeoffs to weigh.

In an effort to build a company of lasting value, we actively define which of ReGrained’s values are “non-negotiable.” In this post, we’re going to share one of our non-negotiable values: renewable packaging.

Packaging is everywhere, hiding in plain sight. Individual products are individually packaged. Those individual packages are then packaged in cases. Those cases are then packaged in bigger cases. Those bigger cases are then packed on pallets. Those pallets are then distributed. For manufacturers, the world of packaging is a supply chain within itself.

The problem? Too much of this packaging is made from single-use plastic that ends up in landfill streams. These plastic films are business-as-usual, and can be found in every aisle of the grocery store, such as the ubiquitous bar wrapper.

The status-quo: Non-Renewable Plastic Films. Single use, infinite life

We care a lot about how ReGrained products are packaged. If our business exists to reduce food waste, are we really positively impacting the environment if we create future-trash in the process? So, from the beginning we’ve used different kinds of renewable films.

To help us take our sustainable packaging to the next level, we partnered with sustainable packaging expert Craig Chaine from Labeltech. We’re thrilled to announce that we’re phasing in this new packaging in late February.

Craig taught us so much through this process, that we asked him if he could share some of his insights publicly…

 

Craig, can you tell us a little bit about the industry standard wrappers?

Conventional wrapper materials are constructed of multiple layers of various types of plastic. When we print and laminate these layers of different types of plastics it deems these plastics not recyclable, only end life available is landfill or incineration.

Okay…why is it the current standard?

Most bar companies use conventional wrapper films for required performance: Shelf life needs of product, production lines speeds and seal integrity, handling needs, then, the biggest reason — price points.

Until recently shelf life with a compostable wrapper film has been subpar, now they are pretty good and do a fine job protecting the product and keeping it fresh. While current compostable films are good for many applications, they cannot achieve the superior freshness barrier of some conventional films.

Additionally, the majority of energy bars are made at a copacker, these copackers normally run conventional films, once you ask them to run a compostable film there are a lot more variables. Copackers want fast wrapping speeds, and really good seals. The copacker must be on board using compostable materials in order for a project to succeed.

As with most things the more you make and or buy the better the deal. Since these compostable films are relatively low consumption the price points are NOT great, there is a significant premium cost for compostable vs a conventional film.

In your opinion, what is the most environmentally ideal kind of wrapper for a food product?

Lets just focus on a food “bar” products, since many foods have a lot of different needs. There are very few compostable raw film suppliers.

At this time, we find that cello is the best option to meet our clients needs of a renewably sourced non gmo material that can be composted in a backyard, or biodegrade in nature.

Why compostable and not recyclable?

We simply do not have any good options for single layer barrier film for food applications that can be printed and recycled. If we did, the challenge would be with getting that certain type of film into the right recycle stream, which is very difficult. Compostable also gives the consumer a chance to participate in the end life solution.

This is a huge discussion in itself and I encourage people to use this site and try and do their best: http://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/

Talk to us about the direction we’re going with upgraded ReGrained wrappers.

ReGrained is going into something new that I have not seen out there.

We have sourced a cellulose film made from eucalyptus trees. This single “mono” layer film is called “Nature Flex 120 NKR.” It is made by Futumura (formerly Innovia films).

Normally, we sandwich the inks between two layers of film, but in this case we are surface printing the one layer of film with a water based ink and aqueous lacquer system. We are using a fairly thin film to give us the best chance to compost and certify when we are ready to do that.

In addition, ReGrained created designs that minimize the amount of ink on the film and number of colors used on press. By minimizing the design colors we save on wasteful film setup in production, saving $$.

Are you optimistic about the future of packaging? What can our readers do to help?

There is only room to improve from here. I think the US has a lot to learn from EU waste stream systems. RIght now, we are doing the best we can with the waste streams we have available.

To help, readers can send in reports on how these wrappers compost in their yard once we are all done with the packaging in the next few weeks.

When shopping, read the packaging labels and if the wrapper says compostable, see if the company has a website that directs you on how it composts and what that film is made from. If those compost touting brands don’t direct you on the web sites, get ahold of them and ask for answers how and where they intended you to compost it.

You can also contact your favorite brands and suggest they develop packaging that has an end life solution, like ReGrained has done.

Thanks, Craig! Readers, we’d love to hear from you. What are your non-negotiable values?




Dan Kurzrock
Dan Kurzrock

Author

Dan is the Co-Founder and Executive Grain Officer of ReGrained. His bike is fueled by eating beer and burritos.


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