About our packaging
The issue of waste and packaging is hugely important for all businesses, but it’s a particularly complex issue for food businesses like ours. On the face of it the answer seems straightforward – just switch to biodegradable, paper and compostable packaging and the issue is dealt with. Sadly its not that simple and it would be disingenuous of us to make some simple switches and claim that we’ve done our bit.
When setting up our online shop and looking into packaging and delivery options we have spent a lot of time investigating the impacts of various types of packaging, with the genuine intention of trying to reduce our wastage and lessen the long-term impact of the packaging we use. For us the issue of packaging covers two main areas; product wrapping and delivery packaging.
This has been the area where have been able to make significant and meaningful changes. The standard approach is to send out chilled meats in polystyrene boxes (EPS packaging). These are robust, light and very efficient at maintaining low temperatures but they tend to be regarded as single use items and are rarely recycled. Even where the technology exists to recycle EPS it is rarely accepted by local council depots and therefore often ends up in landfill. It is a bulky and slow degrading product that frequently finds its way into our environment.
We have chosen to package our deliveries in cardboard boxes packed with a sheep’s wool insulation product. The boxes are recyclable in standard household waste and the wool from the insulation can be composted. It is a natural bi-product of the sheep farming industry so it provides a viable use for what is often disposed of as a waste product. It has excellent insulation qualities and biodegrades down completely and quickly. It also has some innovative uses such as bird-nesting material, and even protecting delicate plants from frost and slug damage!
To keep products chilled we use simple fresh water ice packs. After delivery the packs can either be refrozen to use again, or the clean water is perfectly safe to be used in the garden or just poured away. The plastic packs are then recyclable in most standard household waste collections.
This packaging system is considerably more expensive than EPS but we feel it is the most responsible alternative currently available in order to reduce the long-term impact of the packaging we use to despatch our products.
This is altogether more complicated. When wrapping meat we need to balance food safety and preservation with concerns for waste reduction. Wrapping in the currently available paper wrapping does not allow us to prevent leakage, cross-contamination, spoilage etc. By vacuum-packing a piece of meat in a clean sealed plastic wrapping after it has been cut we can extend its shelf life significantly – keeping it in a safe state to eat for far longer than would otherwise be the case. The alternative would be to exchange packaging waste for food waste as the food we sell would have a hugely reduced shelf-life.
Even if we accepted reduced shelf-life as being worth the switch to the simple biodegradeable bags you often see in shops the problem remains. Many of these apparently ‘eco-friendly’ plastics simply break down rather than truly biodegrade. In some cases they only break down at extremely high temperatures or are simply deteriorating from solid plastic to form the ‘microplastics’ that are blighting our waterways and oceans.
Plant-based and compostable plastics look like being the best route to an answer to this problem, (alongside fundamental changes to our national recycling infrastructure to allow more of the plastics we use to be efficiently and effectively reused). Many of the current plant-based products are prone to degrade quickly and don’t offer the impermeable air barrier we need to make them suitable for meat packing but the technology is improving, as is the will to look for ways to tackle the problem. We have, however, found a plant-based tray suitable for packaging sausages and burgers. These trays can be composted after use or will biodegrade if placed into general waste.
Because of the limitations in current packaging technology we are planning to continue our use of vacuum-packaging combined with cardboard and wool delivery packaging for most products. t the same time though we are always following developments in the alternative technologies that will hopefully one day give us a better solution to this problem.
Making a meaningful change to our use of packaging can feel like an overwhelmingly complicated process. It often feels like well-intended commitments to use alternative technologies can lead us, unwittingly, to cause more harm than good. At Garlic Wood we are committed to following the technology and advances in this area and to make the best informed decisions we possibly can in order that we can reduce the long-term impact of the packaging we use.
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