“It's the way the world is changing,” says Christina Jessie of the growing “green” trend. Bakery packaging is no exception, and more consumers are demanding that bakeries make the switch to more environmentally-friendly packaging. Jessie is bakery sales manager for the seven-unit Market of Choice supermarket chain based in Eugene, Ore., and she has implemented almost a full program of green packaging and recycling in the in-store bakeries. All plastic shopping bags have been eliminated, and the company uses post-consumer materials to produce its paper bags.
According to a 2007 survey by Packaging Digest and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, 73 percent of businesses reported they had an increased emphasis on packaging sustainability during the previous year. So, packaging manufacturers are hearing the call.
One of the most common steps many packaging manufacturers are taking is using recycled plastic and switching from oriented polystyrene (OPS) to polyethylene terephtalate (PET) to make their plastic containers. PET is the most widely accepted plastic for recycling. According to Inline Plastics Corp., Shelton, Conn., PET containers possess superior barrier properties against water vapor and gases, and are more resistant to oxidizers and greases than OPS containers, which increase bakery product shelf life.
However, just because the plastic is recyclable that doesn't mean that it will be recycled. Depending on the area of the country, plastic containers that have come into contact with food may not be recyclable no matter how clean they are. In Oregon, the state does not recycle food containers because the cost of cleaning them is too high, Jessie says. “So, even though the packages say they are recyclable, and even if you separate them out, they will get tossed in the landfill anyway.”
To avoid this, many bakers are turning from petroleum-based plastics to corn-based plastics or bioplastics. This new generation of biodegradable and compostable plastics are derived most commonly from cornstarch, but also can be made from renewable raw materials, such as potato and tapioca starch, cellulose, soy protein and lactic acid. Mater-Bi, made from cornstarch, and PolyActide (PLA), also made from cornstarch, are the two main resins (raw materials) used to make compostable and biodegradable plastics, according to Worldcentric.org.
One of the benefits of corn-based packaging is even though it goes straight into landfills, it breaks down quickly, says Hollis Wilder, owner of Sweet! By Golly Miss Holly, Orlando, Fla. Her cupcake bakery uses plastic packaging made from corn. “Everything you eat off of when you come into the store is green; the forks, knives, spoons, plates and drinking cups are all made from corn,” she adds. Wilder is in the market for more eco-friendly bakery boxes, but has been unable to find a product she finds acceptable.
When Liz Holtz opened her cookie and chocolate business, Liz Lovely, based in Waitsfield, Vt., her mission was social responsibility. “When we started, there weren't a lot of options for green packaging. As things became available, we started to use them,” Holtz says. The bakery uses PLA tubs for its chocolates, packing peanuts made from corn for shipping, and the ribbon used on gift packages is made from 100 percent biodegradable cotton. Even the labels used on the PLA tubs are made from recycled material.
The only thing not made from recycled material is the cardboard shipping box. “They aren't made from recycled material necessarily, but they are recyclable,” Holtz says. “We're using layered systems of cardboard and the corn peanuts, so customers can recycle the entire shipping package, and it won't have a really bad environmental impact.”
While great strides are being made in green packaging, not everything needed in a bakery is available in an eco-friendly form. “Frankly there are a lot of items that I'm looking for and just waiting for people to develop,” Jessie says. “I really like the black bottom dome containers for display, and those can be recycled, but they don't biodegrade on their own.”
Market of Choice uses a pressware container to bake and sell its brownies, but it has a plastic lid, and it's one of the items Jessie is waiting to be improved. “That's one of those things that you have to wait until the manufacturers who are making our packaging catch up with our needs,” she says. She also is currently waiting for all of her bags to be made from post-consumer waste. Currently, she can source some, but not all.
Until she can find the perfect packaging, Jessie is willing to make some concessions. Market of Choice has altered the size of some of its products to fit available eco-friendly packaging.
The choices are improving, Holtz notes. “I just got my distributor catalog, and it had a big ad on it for PLA packaging, so I think it's becoming more and more available.”
Another important aspect to green packaging is testing the materials. “You really have to test things to find the right item that won't biodegrade too fast before you get to use it,” Jessie says.
Holtz agrees. “Get samples, and make sure your product quality is going to remain the same.” When she chose the PLA tubs, she had planned to seal them by running them through a heat tunnel. However, the tubs couldn't withstand the heat. “We're actually hand sealing with recycled labels instead,” she says. “It's a greener thing to do anyway.”
Holtz also is currently testing a film for her cookie line that is made from wood pulp instead of plastic. “We've had some issues, and that's why we haven't switched to that film yet, but I'm not giving up hope. I have hope that very soon it will be much easier to use.”
The key is not giving up the fight. “I'm constantly on the look out for the next best thing,” Jessie says. “I'm not going to be satisfied until I get everything switched over to green.”
Recycled: material can be a mixture of virgin wood fiber and pre-consumer or post-consumer waste.
Pre-consumer: content made out of paper scraps and trimmings leftover from the manufacturing process.
Post-consumer waste: made out of paper that has been used by the end consumer and been recycled.
Compostable plastic: plastic that is capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site. In order for plastic to be compostable, it needs to be able to biodegrade, disintegrate and produce no eco-toxicity.
Biodegradable plastic: plastic that will degrade from the action of a naturally occurring microorganism over a period of time.
Degradable plastic: plastic that will undergo significant change in its chemical structure under specific environmental conditions, resulting in a loss of some properties.