The Big Plastic Debate
We think it’s pretty fair to say that ‘anti-plastic’ is to 2018 what ‘anti-gluten’ was to 2016. Every article we read, instagram we follow and newsletter we receive is now broadcasting what they’re doing to combat our huge over-reliance on single use plastic, and all in all it’s an awesome movement - whilst throwing around your opinions on whether or not everyone should eat gluten comes with a certain level of controversy, we think it’s pretty safe to say that the more people touting for the ‘plastic free life’, the better.
So how do we combine this opinion with the fact that we sell a range of 17 products in what you could call ‘single use plastic’ (single-use used lightly because our tupperware drawers at home tell a different story). It’s contradictory at best, but also something that we spend a whole lot of time trying to change, unfortunately with absolutely no luck. So this weeks article is a little different to your usual ‘how to minimise your plastic-use’ piece and more so a ‘why is it so damn difficult to minimise your plastic-use’ piece, from the eyes of consumers ourselves, but also from the eyes of a business who are really trying, and failing, to be a part of the anti-plastic movement.
HOW DID WE END UP WITH PLASTIC IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Let’s take it back a bit to about 1 year ago, when we made the transition to our current packaging. Before this point, we were using 100% biodegradable packaging for both our containers and labelling. It was, shall we say, before biodegradable got ‘trendy’ but we did it (and paid much extra for it) because that’s what we care about as people and thus, as a business. So why did we change? Not because we wanted to, or because we stopped caring about the planet, but because biodegradable packaging isn’t made for supply chain, it’s made for those situations where the packaging is carried carefully from store to desk/home with little cause for damage along the way. It’s not made for mass production and being stacked in cardboard boxes and shipped across the UK by people who don’t really care what state it shows up in (sad, but true).
It’s also not tamper-proof - a way of keeping for product airtight and showing that nobody has ‘tampered’ with the food you’re about to sell or consume. Whilst we were able to deal with both of these things for as long as possible, after a few too many broken breakfast pots and smashed up lunch boxes, as well as rejections from bigger stockists based on the flimsy-ness and lack of tamper-proof seal on our packaging, we had to bite the bullet and transition.
LIVING THE PLASTIC LIFE
We chose our plastic packaging based on the idea that it’s sturdy enough for people to take home and use as tupperware - something we all take full advantage of in the office (our tupperware drawers have never looked so healthy). It’s also 100% recyclable meaning that so long as it ends up in the correct bin, it should be doing significantly less harm to the planet.
CAN WE DO MORE?
Oh, how we wish we could do more! The amount of hours we’ve spent searching for compostable/biodegradable/planet loving packaging that is both suitable for the job it needs to do (not break, and be sealed shut) and also not a price that would significantly increase our sale price is quite ridiculous. If we want to continue to sell our products where we do, right now our only option is plastic, and that’s a sad reality that a lot of other companies probably face too. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who find supermarkets frustrating when it comes to the amount of plastic used, but it does make us wonder if part of the reason why is lack of innovation (and affordability) in non-plastic packaging. Now we’re not saying that double wrapping an avocado or banana in plastic is at all acceptable (it’s not), but when it comes to other departments, there’s definitely room for innovation. Likewise, a lot of the current planet-friendly options available are so expensive (glass jars/ceramic dishes etc) that they make the actual product too expensive to be an everyday item. As much as we love the novelty of buying yoghurt or cake in glass and ceramic, we generally only do so as a ‘treat’ or when they’re on offer for this reason.
FINDING THE ANSWER
Despite the bleak picture that we’ve painted (sorry guys), we’re pretty adamant that there’s an answer to this problem, and hope that it’s going to start with this current anti-plastic movement that’s happening. When there isn’t a demand for a product, or at least only a very niche demand, there’s no real need for companies to innovate as they wouldn’t make a lot of money from it, however as we see more and more big companies come under scrutiny for the amount of plastic they use, we imagine the market for biodegradable packaging will quickly increase. We can already see the movement starting with a lot of the big supermarkets ‘promising’ for their own-brand items to be 100% renewable or compostable by certain deadlines: Iceland have gone for 2020, Aldi 2022 and Waitrose, Nestle and Mcdonalds 2025. This not only increases the rate of innovation that everyone else can then also take advantage of (e.g. us), but it also breaks down the stigma around ‘unpretty’ packaging. One of the main things we remember from the biodegradable days, is that everything from the labelling to the containers just looks a little more ‘natural’ (read: dull) which never looks quite as inviting as its shiny, bright, fancy plastic competitors. If we’re all in the same boat though, then dull becomes the new norm and the planet becomes a little happier.
So there we have it. As individuals at Pollen, we’ve been the local farm box, pro-bulk food, anti-supermarket-packaging types for a pretty long time now, but as a business we’ve been left with no alternatives. We still want to help pave the way in showing how plastic-free is an option for businesses, and we still have hope that we’ll find a way to do so, but for now we just hope that you all have tupperware drawers as healthy as ours.