It's Not About the Straw, or Is It?
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
The anti-straw movement started in 2011 with a 9-year-old boy named Milo Cress and his campaign ‘be straw free’. The alarm went off when he called out Americans on using 500 million single-use plastic straws per day. Since then many US businesses and cities have banned straws.
However, the anti-straw movement failed to make the point about the bigger issue about the many more millions of single-used plastics beyond straws used to package, deliver and consume foods every day: food packaging, bottles, containers, shopping bags, cups, cutlery. And while placing ‘recyclable plastics’ in the recycling bin might make many people feel better, the reality is that only 13% of those recyclable plastics are actually being recycled. The economic incentives, technologies and infrastructures needed to recycle plastics safely and efficiently don’t exist. But even if they were, plastics are made from a finite resource (oil), have limited recyclability (most plastics can only be recycled once) and its material toxicity come with potential health risks.
Since the offset of COVID-19, plastic bags and plastic food packaging made their way back into many grocery stores and restaurants that had stopped using them previously. This took place along with dozens of single-use item reduction policies temporarily suspended across cities and states and current household waste in volume up to 50% versus pre COVID-19 times.
This approach to single-used plastics is unsustainable. With nearly half of all the plastics ever manufactured made in the last twenty years, at current rates of use we will have more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.
At Future Fit Foods, we are committed to use innovative packaging solutions that preserve the quality and safety of our foods, deliver on the need for convenience, and avoid the negative impacts of single-use plastics and other permanent packaging that doesn’t feed our planet back.
During the first few weeks of COVID-19 home confinement we worked with our partners to map out circular packaging options for Future Fit Foods. What do we mean by circular packaging?
Current food systems for packaged foods use mostly single-used packaging based on a lineal and extractive economic model. Most of the current food packaging used is made from oil-based packaging (plastics) and other non-renewable resources. Most of those packaging materials are extracted from the earth, used only once, and even when they are technically recyclable, most of it ends up in our landfills and oceans. Even with the use of the newer generation of biodegradable materials, the issue is that very few of them are backyard-compostable which means that only a small percentage is actually composted.
Future Fit Foods’ search for circular packaging follows Ellen Macarthur’s principles for the circular economy: (1) Design out waste and pollution, (2) Keep products and materials in use, (3) Regenerate natural systems
Through our research we found a number of emerging circular packaging solutions with interesting potential to scale up into the future of packaged foods, including:
· Edible: We found over ten interesting innovations from kombucha to seaweed.
· Backyard Compostable: Many are made from food bi-products or waste like potato starch.
· Efficiently & Highly Recycled: Cardboard is probably the best example in this category as it can be recycled five to seven times, recycling rates are >70% (vs. 33% glass, 13% plastics).
· Reusable: Durable packaging that can be used over and over.
If you are curious to check out some of the solutions we’ve exploring for Future Fit Foods, check out: (1) Notpla,which is a startup out of the UK which uses new technology to make natural and biodegradable seaweed packaging which you can eat too, and (2) Loop, a new convenient way to receive your favorite foods at your doorsteps using safe, durable and reusable food containers.
What new food packaging are you excited about? Let us know your thoughts!