Maggie: Learning about sustainable packaging has been quite the journey. Going into this, I think we both thought we had a handle on what sustainable packaging options were available and what we wanted to use. And now...
Katherine: Now, well, we have a better sense of what's possible in theory versus reality. Essentially, just because something can be composted or even recycled, doesn't mean it gets there in the end.
Maggie: Sadly, true. I've always had a strong belief that individual action matters. But, our packaging exploration drove home that for some problems, system changes are required. In the U.S. approximately 30% of cities compost and of those facilities, only about 15% accept packaging. So, that means, in practice, <5% gets composted.
It doesn't matter what we use, if, in the end, it's tossed in the trash (it really doesn't - keep reading).
Katherine: There's actually a lot of innovation going on with packaging - which is fantastic. But, you're right, we don't yet have the infrastructure or systems in place to break down those bags. Systems and product need to be aligned. Right now, they're not.
Maggie: On top of that (and what I didn't realize until recently), is that compostable materials, when sent to landfill, produce methane, a greenhouse gas 30x more powerful than CO2. And, depending on how and what they're made with, can have a higher energy cost in production as well.
Oh, and some compostable bags leave toxic remnants behind. There are standards to avoid this, but this highlights again how important it is to read the fine print.
So, where does this leave us?
Katherine: Well, we'll use compostable bags when we feel the benefits outweigh the risks - because I know we'd both love to get there. At launch, going with compostable feels wasteful and more marketing spin than anything.
So, it's on to Plan B.
To learn more about Plan B, stay tuned for Part II of our packaging journey. And, in the meantime, if anyone out there is a packaging wonk and has more information to share or thoughts to add, please comment below or reach out (email@example.com or DM us on Instagram).
And, if you're interested in this topic and want to read up, we recommend The Future of Packaging: From Linear to Circular by Tom Szaky, founder of Terracycle. This book was an eye-opening read and fascinating in ways we didn't expect.