When compostable is anything but green
Two food giants, Pepsi’s Frito Lay and Kraft Canada, were hoping compostable packaging would give their products a boost among consumers and win kudos for green initiatives.
It didn’t work out that way. Both companies have decided to end their compostable experiment Frito Lay Canada earlier this year and Kraft this past week.
In 2010, Frito Lay made a lot of noise literally with its compostable bag for SunChips. The film, made from plant based material, crackled so loudly that it led to amusing news reports, irritated consumers and cancellation of the bag experiment south of the border. More tolerant Canadians expressed their enthusiasm for the bag on social media, but, in the end, that wasn’t enough.
“Unfortunately, the consumer feedback didn’t translate into the same kind of acceptance on the shelf, which is one of the key reasons we’re not using that bag any more,” says Helmi Ansari, Frito Lay Canada’s sustainability director.
That makes Ontario’s municipal waste officials happy. The fact is none of their industrial composting systems can actually handle the bag. It simply doesn’t break down fast enough and ends up as just one more contaminant to dispose of.
In practical terms, Frito Lay’s compostable bag was nothing more than green washing.
Next up to bat, Kraft Canada recently introduced its “earth pack” bottle, made of tapioca starch and bamboo. Labelled compostable, it’s used for Dentyne, Trident and Clorets gum.
No question Kraft chose the container to make the product stand out on the rack. “Packaging is one of the ways to carve out a point of difference,” says Kathy Murphy, Kraft Canada’s director of corporate affairs, who says the “earth pack” was only introduced for the gum in Canada.
The packaging was chosen following recommendations from Kraft’s global suppliers as part of a program to develop the next generation of packaging.
“All of them strongly suggested that we look at some sort of compostabl free run 2 e packaging at the time,” says Murphy. “And that matched with what we were hearing from consumers.”
Kraft launched its “earth pack” in early April, after sending out a “heads up” letter to municipalities and industrial composters a few weeks before.
The pushback from the municipalities was quick. Individually, and as a group through umbrella organizations, they point free run 2 ed out there was not sufficient time to test the product’s compostability, there weren’t enough samples provided, the compostability standards cited for the product were no guarantee that the packaging would break down in centralized composting facilities (and in fact it does not), and the bottle would likely end up contaminating the blue bin program.
Adding insult to injury, the “earth pack” replaced a plastic bottle that’s recyclable in the blue box program, which Kraft supports through stewardship fees.
Once the company asked for feedback, Murphy says, it was committed to taking appropriate action. And, to Kraft’s credit, they have.
“It was suggested to us that we transition back to our polymer (plastic) bottle, and we’re actually in the process of doing that,” she says. So you’ll soon be buying those gum products in plastic containers again.
On the positive side, Sun free run 2 Chips and the “earth pack” misadventures mean that two consumer products giants have learned something in their quest for more environmentally friendly packaging. And perhaps ot free run 2 hers will think twice before going the compostable route without consulting municipalities and determining the limitations of waste handling facilities when it comes to innovative materials before a product lands on the shelf.
The next step, according to Susan Antler of the Composting Council of Canada, is to “capture the learning and establish eyes wide open rules as to how to introduce a product with the compostable claim.”
Let’s hope the council is able to facilitate that, and let’s hope, too, that both companies and consumers learn that a compostable or biodegradable label isn’t automatically a good thing. In fact, it can be anything but and actually end up interfering with recycling and composting systems.