I’ve just completed a research project exploring consumer understanding of the inter-relationship of compostable packaging and sustainable foods and the insights are fascinating.
First and foremost, it was interesting to learn that many Millennials and Gen Z’s view use of compostable packaging as the panacea to reducing waste and tackling greenhouse emissions.
At the same time, these cohorts in particular, are all for reducing their meat consumption in favour of plant-based foods.
But here’s the rub.
Both plant-based foods and PLA plastic-coated, compostable packaging often utilise the same raw ingredient – soya.
So what makes the most environmental sense? To grow crops using precious water to produce plant-based alternatives to meat or to utilise them in the manufacture of single-use, compostable packaging?
And where soya isn’t the raw ingredient, fermented plant starch from corn, cassava, maize, sugarcane or sugar beet pulp are used instead, all valuable human food sources.
Add to this the energy used in shipping single-use packaging across the globe and the minimal levels of energy extracted from poorly utilised, industrial composting processes and to my mind, compostable packaging makes no sense.
We must focus on improving our recycling rates and start to place a value on materials which historically we’ve put out of sight and out of mind.
But better still, we should also focus on reuse solutions wherever possible.
Changing consumer behaviour takes time of course but compared to major, global initiatives, redefining our relationship with packaging and recognising that is a valuable resource is an easy win and we can all make a change.