Plastic must rank as one of the most important innovations of the 20th century. In the course of humanity’s hundred-year love affair with the cheap, versatile stuff, we’ve manufactured all manner of clever things with it, and wrapped, packed and bagged billions more. It’s allowed for massive progress in medical science, food hygiene and health. But in recent years, the tragic consequences of our plastic addiction have become impossible to ignore. Plastic pollution is near-ubiquitous, with microplastic particles found swirling in the deepest ocean currents and the remotest desert winds.
Here at kencko, we’re well aware that any company that manufactures, packs and ships new products is contributing to environmental damage. We have made two crucial commitments to mitigate that damage: firstly, to put our responsibility to the environment at the forefront of all our business decisions; and secondly, to be totally honest with ourselves and our customers about how we’re doing.
Since the beginning, one of our key aims has always been to eliminate conventional, single-use plastics from our packaging. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re making progress - and we’ve got some exciting news for you.
From July 2019, all our single-serving smoothies will come in compostable packets made from a plant-based film. It’s a really innovative alternative to conventional plastic, and here’s why we like it:
It’s made from renewable raw materials, mainly cellulose from plant fibers - not from fossil fuels.
It can be broken down into compost after use, in the same way as fruits and vegetables - and it doesn’t create harmful microplastic residues.
The important thing for everyone to remember is that the new packets don’t go in the plastic recycling like the old ones. Our plant-based packaging material is certified for industrial composting, meaning that it biodegrades within 90 days in a suitable facility. It’s not yet certified for home composting, so we can’t say how long it will take to break down in your garden compost.
Also, it may be made from plants, but please don’t just drop it on the ground - unlike, say, an apple core, a kencko packet won’t biodegrade in the open air.
If your community has a food waste collection program, you may be able to simply add your empty kencko packets to your other compostable waste - please check with your local recycling provider to find out if they accept compostable plastic under this program, as composting technologies differ from place to place. Ask around in the community, too: if your favorite café uses bio-plastic cups or utensils, they should be able to tell you where these items go for composting.
We’re aware that in most places, recycling infrastructure has some way to go to catch up with recent innovations in plant-based packaging. If there is no local pick-up or drop-off composting program available in your area yet, it’s best to dispose of the new kencko compostable packets in the regular trash, as they are not compatible with other recyclables. Although sending waste items to landfill or incineration should always be a last resort, it’s a better alternative than contaminating the recycling stream or littering the environment. And you can rest easier knowing that our new packets are made from renewable, plant-based materials, and will not create harmful microplastic particles when they break down or toxic fumes when they are incinerated.
Please be patient while we transition to the new plant-based packets. We don’t want to waste any usable stock, so we’ll continue shipping some flavors in the old recyclable packets - until they are all gone. That means you may find yourself doing a little bit of a recycling juggle for the next couple of deliveries.
Look out for more information in your next shipping confirmation email: we’ll let you know which packets to recycle and which ones to compost. You can also check the latest info on our website, here. If you’re in any doubt, reach out to [email protected] for more guidance.
For anyone who’s curious about how a start-up like kencko wrestles with the question of plastics, here’s a run-down of our story so far.
Until now, kencko has used three types of plastic:
Our reusable bottles are made of BPA-free Tritan plastic, which is a durable, food-safe material intended for several years of frequent use and washing. It’s not recyclable, but we hope each kencko bottle is destined for a long and useful life.
Our individual serving packets were originally made out of OPP (oriented polypropylene). OPP is a type of polypropylene or synthetic resin commonly used for consumer products like yogurt containers. OPP can be recycled, and is commonly accepted in curbside plastic recycling programs.
Our padded envelopes are made from a co-extruded polyethylene blend, another plastic that can be commercially recycled where facilities exist. In practice, this usually means dropping it off at a retail location that collects HDPE/LDPE waste (e.g. plastic grocery bags and film).
Eagle-eyed readers will note the pitfall in the phrase, “can be recycled”. Recycling is a team effort: we have to supply the materials, you have to clean and sort them for collection, and your local authority has to provide the facilities to process them (US customers can check this at earth911.com). We know that local recycling of our chosen materials is by no means universally available; as a result, we think that a lot of technically recyclable kencko plastic packaging has ended up in landfill. It’s our responsibility to do what we can to minimize this.
Developing packaging materials with a smaller eco-footprint takes time and financial investment. In addition to our environmental concerns, we have a vital responsibility to ensure our products arrive with the customer in perfect condition, 100% safe to eat – so the performance of any potential packaging has to be rigorously tested. We also want kencko products to look appetizing – and, since we’re being honest, cool and covetable too – so aesthetics are another big consideration. And finally, it has to make economic sense: We can’t spend more on the packaging than the product is worth.
It’s hard to argue with the fact that, in many use cases, plastic is actually less resource-intensive to manufacture than the alternatives (e.g. paper, glass, cloth), and sometimes easier to reuse, as well. (Incidentally, we tried out several glass options for the kencko bottle, and even the individual servings – but the benefits just didn’t add up.) So it’s not so much the manufacture of a plastic item, but its afterlife we need to consider: what happens when we’re done with it? The same properties that make plastic so useful – stability, durability, long life – can also make it a nightmare to dispose of.
In the last two decades, the race has been on to create alternatives to conventional plastics, with the same useful properties but a shorter lifespan. There are two main approaches:
Compostable plastics, also called bioplastics or plant-based plastics, are made from renewable raw materials like cellulose or cornstarch (rather than fossil fuels), and are designed to compost (i.e. break down in the presence of water and heat).
Biodegradable plastics are made from the same materials as conventional plastics, but with an additive that makes them break down much faster, whether in landfill or in the environment.
You may have heard some heated arguments for and against these new plastics, each of which have their supporters. Anti-composters point out that most ‘compostable’ plastics don’t break down in your garden compost bin, and need to be shipped to special composting plants. They can also contaminate recyclable plastics if they end up in the wrong part of the recycling facility. On the other hand, anti-biodegraders say that many so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics can break down into microplastic particles – one of the most dangerous forms of plastic pollution. Choosing the best way forward is a contentious task.
But there’s a way to look at all of this a bit more positively: the options for more sustainable plastics are increasing all the time, with exciting new breakthroughs like this one. We are watching the developments very closely. In the meantime, we mustn't let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good': just because there isn't an ideal solution yet, that's not an excuse to do nothing. So we'll keep on making the smartest choices we can from the options available, reducing our plastic footprint bit by bit and hustling for better solutions in the future.
We’ve spent the last nine months trialing different ‘eco-plastics’ and plastic alternatives, and while no option is perfect, we’re confident we have chosen the best solutions for the time being.
For our individual serving sachets, we’re moving to compostable plant-based film, as you already know. It’s not a complete solution, because facilities for efficient composting are not yet universally available, and we know some packets will end up in landfill. But we’re confident that local composting infrastructure will continue to expand, fast. In the meantime, kencko packets won’t be responsible for any microplastic pollution as they degrade, and our packaging material will come from renewable resources.
For our padded envelopes, we’re moving to the most eco-friendly option of all...nothing! We’ve designed a new mailing box that doesn’t need an additional outer layer to keep the contents safe in transit, so as soon as our stock of recyclable envelopes runs out, we won’t make any more.
As technology advances, we’ll keep looking at new packaging materials to make sure we are using our planet’s resources as lightly and responsibly as possible. We’ll also continue to look at ways to reduce and reuse packaging wherever possible, in the knowledge that the best solution is not to create the waste in the first place.
When all is said and done, our mission is to help people eat more fruits and vegetables, because we believe that’s best for human health and best for the planet. We want to minimize food loss and food waste by extending the shelf life of fresh produce, and encourage people to make food choices that are more responsible at both a personal and a global level. But most of all, we want to be part of a team, along with our customers and the wider communities where we operate: A team in which every member thinks before they create waste, and a team that wrestles wholeheartedly with these difficult decisions about the impact we make on our planet.
If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions about how kencko is doing on our plastics journey so far, please reach out to [email protected].