About Farmdrop Thinking

Plastic Packaging: How Much Did We Eliminate In Just 6 Weeks?

12th March 2019

Six weeks ago we set ourselves a challenge to dramatically reduce the amount of packaging in our fresh produce. Here’s how we got on.

Plastic is a cheap drug and we’re all addicts. Every year, we dump the equivalent of 650,000 double decker busses worth of plastic into the oceans. The sea is big but it isn’t that big. We urgently need to stop wrapping food that lasts a few days in materials that last hundreds of years.

As a socially responsible business, we are conscious of the impact that food has on the environment. And while we’ve made some good progress already in reducing the amount of plastic and unnecessary packaging in our deliveries, we wanted to go much further and fast.

So roughly 6 weeks ago we set ourselves a challenge to dramatically reduce the amount of packaging in our fresh produce. We searched far and wide for suitable alternatives to plastic that still preserved the freshness of the food. Here is how we got on.

1. Leafy Greens

Kale and cavolo nero are packed with minerals and vitamins, not to mention delicious. However, we weren’t happy that they were being packaged in nasty plastic. Fortunately, after a few tests, it transpired that the plant-based, compostable bags we already used did a great job of keeping our leafy greens fresh.

Cavolo Nero in our new plastic-free and compostable bags.

This compostable bag is made from non-GM plants grown in Europe, mainly cornstarch and vegetable oils. Up to 60% of it’s materials come from renewable sources, compared to 100% fossil fuels with plastic, so far fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

You should put this in your home compost (worms love it) or food waste bin (if you have one) otherwise dispose of in your general waste. Don’t recycle.

2. Fresh salads

Salads are notoriously tricky to keep fresh but it turns out plastic wrapping isn’t the only answer.

Initially, we found a material called Natureflex made by Futamura that we thought might be the answer to all our prayers because it was breathable and made of wood pulp. It looked the business but came up short in testing – the leaves wilted very quickly.

Mixed salad in new compostable packaging (left) and in the old plastic packaging (right).

On a whim we also tried the plant-based, compostable bag but this time we heat sealed the bag and it did a stellar job of keeping the salads fresh. So we have a high confidence that when the salad season starts in May we will bag fresh salads and spinach in the plant-based, home compostable bag rather than plastic.

3. Fresh sliced bread

Whole unsliced loaves and darker ryes are just fine without plastic and will keep well in brown paper. However sliced loaves need a wrapper to stay fresh. Sliced bread is hard work, it needs breathability and cover.

However we were informed that a specific variety of natureflex material (NK), made from wood pulp, would do the job. We tested various loaves and pastries and the packaging worked like a dream. If anything it did a better job than plastic at keeping the bread fresh.

Sliced bread in the new plastic-free packaging made from wood pulp.

The natureflex material is a bio-film made from wood pulp from responsibly managed forestries certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. 95% of finished materials are taken from renewable sources.

This bag looks a lot like plastic so be careful not to put in your recycling because that messes things up in the waste plant. Instead, it needs to go in your food waste bin or home composter (if you have one) otherwise put it in general waste.

4. Sausages, burgers, steaks and bacon

Meat is probably the last place that we thought we’d find an opportunity to cut out plastic. But good news, because we’ve found a plastic-free, plant-based alternative for plastic trays.

Currently, a lot of the chicken, sausages, burgers, and steaks we sell are packaged on black plastic trays or polystyrene. But we have found a water-resistant, compostable tray made from recycled cardboard made by a company called Footprint. The tray has a lining made from vegetable protein which means that it can be used for meat without any leakage or stickiness.

Burgers, sausages and steaks in wax paper from Park Farm.

The only downside to the trays is that they still require a wrap of cellophane so it doesn’t eliminate the need for plastic entirely. For that reason, our first preference is to use a wax paper instead for sausages, steaks, burgers and bacon. That would eliminate the need for plastic entirely. We’ve done one test of paper which we were happy with and need to do a few more to be sure but the aim is to use paper.

Where next?

It will take a few more weeks to bed in the new changes however we’re not going to stop here. We believe there is even more we can do to reduce plastic usage. As ever, we’ll keep you posted here on the blog and on social media on how we’re getting on.

Did you know we sell milk in glass bottles? Here are 10 clever ways you can reuse your empty bottle.

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