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4 myths and truths about sustainable packaging

April 19, 2016

What’s the real story behind sustainable packaging? Untangle the myths and misperceptions:


  1. Misperception: Your choices for sustainable packaging are limited.

Reality: Many environmentally sound, single-use options are available for cups, cutlery, plates and to-go boxes. They include: 

  • PLA, also known as polylactic acid. Plant-based, non-petroleum-based. Has the look and feel of conventional plastic.
  • Bagasse. Made from the pulpy residue after juice is extracted from sugar cane. Look for it in clamshell containers, plates and bowls.
  • Post-consumer recycled paper fiber. It’s true; your old newspapers could end up as tomorrow’s coffee cup.
  • Post-consumer polystyrene. It may be hard to believe, but old retail hangers are finding new life as lids and cutlery.


  1. Misconception: Sustainable packaging is too expensive. 

Reality: Sustainable packaging costs more up front, but that’s because conventional packaging has been around longer and is produced on a much larger scale.  And pricing for sustainable packaging is coming down. It’s not susceptible to fluctuations in the price of oil, like conventional plastic is. And there are numerous benefits associated with it, like sending a positive environmental message and building customer loyalty, that more than make up for the extra cost.


  1. Misunderstanding: Compostable is the same as biodegradable. 

Reality: Biodegradable means the product can break down into small parts through natural processes and microorganisms. Compostable products break down in commercial composting facilities to create nutrient-rich soil. The Biodegradable Products Institute tests products to determine whether they break down in a reasonable amount of time without toxic residue. Look for the words ”BPI Certified“ on truly compostable products.


  1. Myth: Sustainability is a big pain in the [trash] can. IMG_3243.jpg

Reality: It’s not nearly as complicated as you might think. It’s much easier if you and your staff are committed to making it work. Using sustainable cups, plates and utensils is a great first step. To get even more of an environmental benefit, take additional steps to divert materials from the landfill. Add separate bins for trash, compostables and/or recyclables, and train employees to separate waste correctly. Also, post detailed signage to guide customers to use the right bins.

The bottom line: Despite some extra costs and work up front, sustainability is good for business. The more you learn about it, the more you’ll find to like.

Sarah Martinez is Sustainability Maven for Eco-Products, which makes foodservice packaging from renewable resources and post-consumer recycled content.


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