As the Local Time team dove headfirst into the somewhat wild west of available supplement packaging, a green-washed reality became clear: the journey toward packaging with integrity would be arduous and fraught with time-consuming setbacks.
It’s been an adventure (to say the least) to find a packaging option that balances the essentials of a product with integrity: protection for the stability and potency of the powders traveling to highly variable environments, savvy functionality for the traveler on the go (i.e. keeping our luggage light), and weighing the pros and cons of plastics, paper, and bio-based materials when considering disposal.
My name is Reinier Halbertsma, I’m an industrial designer-turned-entrepreneur, Co-Founder of Local Time, and as our company takes off, I wanted to share a bit more about the distance we’ve traveled so far on our journey toward a truly sustainable packaging option.
Sustainability has been my entryway into business strategy. What I find so exciting about Local Time is that we are implementing both a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy with sustainability in mind at every stage. In the long-term, what we really want to do with Local Time is catalyze a paradigm shift in flying, to basically take away all the waste.
How exactly? That’s where we bring it back to our short-term efforts. From the start, we’ve worked to find a solution that would support our customers in their efforts to live a zero waste lifestyle, while also reducing the waste our products bring to market.
For us, it was really important that we came out of the gate with a compostable packaging solution that embodied what we believe is the best application for worldwide travelers. Because solutions like home compostable films are relatively new for the industry, there are only a small number of suppliers willing to experiment with them on their production lines. While most companies who are this early stage would avoid the hassle of finding willing suppliers, for us that was not an option.
We started with a strategic focus on packaging design, ensuring that we were designing with waste in mind. Number one for us, for sure, was ecosystem health and the avoiding uncontrolled waste getting out into the environment. One of the big challenges here was thinking through how our product will move across the world.
Because our products are usually consumed while traveling, our packaging is going to be disposed of worldwide. While we don’t know and can’t control what the global waste infrastructures will be at every vacation or business destination, we can design with these realities in mind.
Where we’ve landed is a packaging solution that is certified home compostable. While our packaging is a bio-based product, we are not calling it biodegradable, for very good reason. Right now there are a lot of things about biodegradable products popping up in the news, about how they’re not actually any better than regular trash. And the problem is the terminology – anything is “technically” biodegradable, it just takes time – whether it’s 100,000 years or two years.
Our packaging is “home compostable,” which is an exciting differentiator: home compostable means that for the material to breakdown, you don’t need the highly controlled conditions that are required in industrial composting facilities, such as regulated oxygen and pressure; so it gives our customers more options for disposal, regardless of how advanced the waste system of their location is. Home compostable packaging can be put directly into a home compost bin and it will still break down naturally.
Why didn’t we opt for recyclable? First and foremost, we didn’t want to use oil-based plastic. While there are a several recyclable wrapper material options on the market, using a wrapper to wrap the different ingredients usually requires laminating multiple kinds of materials, which is really difficult to recycle and requires more technically advanced waste systems. Our individual packs of micronutrients are also quite small and can fall through the cracks in the system.
Of course, locations and destinations around the world are advancing their waste disposal options, with very technical recycling and composting facilities being built in cities across the USA and Europe; but chances are very high that in certain destinations there will be sub-optimal waste infrastructures.
For us, this has to work whether you’re in London or Laos.
We had to think about open landfill options, which are far from ideal but if that’s all there is, we still want to empower our customers to dispose of our packaging responsibly. So, we designed a product that will work in both of those contexts and have the lowest end-of-life impact.
We’re thrilled with where we’ve landed on packaging as our very first batches of micronutrients take flight and arrive in the hands of conscious travelers around the world.
The packaging is slim and lightweight, making it ideal for any type and sized suitcase; it will keep the product stable and fresh whether travelers are in the jungles of Brazil or the glacial tracks in Iceland. All of our inks are also bio-based and non-toxic, so no matter where our packaging ends up, chemicals won’t be leaching into the Earth. And because the material is home compostable (Certified OK HOME Compostable by TUV Austria & Certified Compostable by the BPI), it’s engineered to breakdown to 90% within 12 months in your average home garden compost heap.
But we’re not finished yet. We still have some distance to cover when it comes to achieving the level of sustainability that we believe is possible. There are a number of pitfalls with compostable packaging; we know it’s not perfect and neither are we, but we’re continuously working toward closing these gaps.
What are some of these challenges where we hope to improve? Namely, verifying that the raw materials are indeed sustainably sourced. Global supply chains can be quite complex and transparency throughout them can be difficult to achieve.
Core source materials are crops, such as corn and wood that require large amounts of acreage, taking over spaces that could have been used to cultivate food for human or animal consumption – and instead is being used for products. This is a vital socio-economic issue, especially in developing countries.
Additionally, a lot of the corn that is used as the base material for compostable packaging is genetically modified and conventionally grown. Many tree plantations grown for the product and cellulose pulp packaging market have been planted in places where there were once old-growth native forests – this is one of the main reasons the Amazonian basin has been depleted of its ancient forests. Because of irresponsible forestry and the planting of mono-crops such as corn, we’re losing the diversity of an important agricultural base, which is something we want to fight, not contribute to.
Knowing about these potentially negative social and environmental impacts behind compostable packaging, there are a couple of steps we can take, and we are working closing with our manufacturer to take them together. This starts with establishing material traceability that reaches all the way to the source of these materials. As we grow and our production orders increase, we are focusing on finding raw materials for our packaging that are verifiably sourced from FSC certified wood based materials, and in cases where corn is a base material, the corn is certified non-GMO.
To have impact you need to have scale. And so to get there we do need to be practical and make some decisions and accept that this packaging material still isn’t as verifiably sustainable is we are striving toward. We’re committed to working with our manufacturers and suppliers to overcome the barriers that come up each step of the way, but there are a lot of invisible challenges as well, particularly when it comes to transparency throughout our supply chain. As we grow, we’ll want to optimize what we have and get more transparency. It’s great that our packaging material is compostable, of course, but we don’t have transparency in the sourcing. So we keep going, with a clear sight of the destination on the horizon.
As we continue down this path, we want to keep sharing – the successes and the challenges – to help tell the story, spread the word of how early stage companies can build the best product from the beginning. We believe it would be great if other companies – not just established companies but starting companies, too – can see what it takes to come out with honest, good solutions right from the start.
I’m actually really encouraged because I’ve been in the industry for the last 10-15 years, really paying attention to how sustainable packaging is being created, and, right now, there are so many better options than people realize. More demand will only increase meaningful advances in sustainable solutions.
No matter what, we believe that everyone can and does make a difference with the actions you take. Vote with your feet, vote with your wallet; decide to choose those better options because it does make a difference to how companies think about introducing these kinds of solutions.
Onward and upward,