Packaging for biscuits is essential and has three main functions:
For the protective element, options could include tins, plastic inner and/or outer trays or cases, card boxes or cartons, or using a strong outer cardboard container or box that holds several packets of biscuits snugly to prevent them moving in transit.
We put most of our biscuits in card cartons as this gives excellent protection for the biscuits during travel and when they go on shelves, into shopping bags or cupboards at home. The boxes can stand up on a shelf and present well to the shopper. Card is easily printed with all the information required. It is also recyclable.
The card we use for our cartons is carbon-balanced through The World Land Trust. This means that the carbon emissions produced in its production is offset by the global conservation activities of the World Land Trust. They protect carbon rich habitats from deforestation or degradation.
In the words of Sir David Attenborough
“The money given to World Land Trust, in my estimation, has more effect on the wild world than almost anything I can think of.”
We also use tins for some of our biscuits. The biscuits tins are designed to be more special than the cartons, perhaps to be given as a gift, and the tin itself can be kept. It is a handy size for lots of secondary uses, but they can be easily recycled if desired. Tins are an expensive option though and it would not be economic or the best use of resources to use them for every pack.
We pack some of our biscuits simply in 2 biscuit packs which use a recyclable, flow-wrapped, foiled plastic film. These small packs are intended for convenience and are usually found in hotel rooms, trains, planes or coffee shops.
What about the plastic film inside the cartons? We are sometimes asked why we don’t use compostable films made from cellulose instead of plastic film. We have thought long and hard about this, but have reached the same conclusion as Abel & Cole and decided that this is not the most sustainable choice to make.
The first issue is that the production of compostable films is phenomenally energy intensive compared to regular plastics to the extent that they can contribute more to global warming than them.
“Compostable products can exhibit higher Global Warming Potential (GWP) than conventional plastics, even when taking into account their CO2 sequestration. This is because conventional plastics are optimised for their material properties, such as strength, therefore reducing overall volume and weight of material (reducing transportation energy use) and requiring less production activities (reducing power consumption), equating to a lower GWP than compostable alternatives.” Plastic Waste Innovation Hub, UCL – A Guide for Product Manufacturers Intending to Use Biodegradable Packaging
Research has shown that where compostable films are used in packaging, the odds of them being properly treated and ending up fully composted after use are distressingly low. The primary barriers are:
Biodegradability and compostability are dependent on environmental conditions; compostable plastics may behave like conventional plastics in uncontrolled environments (i.e. marine, soil) and simply fragment. Recent studies have shown that both conventional and biodegradable microplastics are harmful to the health and behaviour of small organisms such as earthworms and various marine organisms.
For our needs, film needs to make a really durable seal and remain impermeable to air over the shelf life of the biscuits. In trials with samples of compostable films, there is deterioration in the quality of the biscuits much sooner than is the case in the existing plastic film. We will keep any improvements in this situation under review.
We have replaced our inner trays which were previously acetate plastic with lovely paper boats to remove plastic where it wasn’t necessary.
Unfortunately, the plastic we use inside our cartons at the moment is not recyclable. However, the foiled film that we use on our two biscuit packs can be recycled where local authorities have the correct facilities. We are currently trialling a film for inside the cartons that is recyclable. If the biscuits currently sealed up inside it still taste good at the end of the shelf-life trial, we will switch to using that.
At Island Bakery we would dearly love to be able to say we are plastic-free, but not if it is a case of green-washing rather than making a genuinely more sustainable choice. Unless the performance and the ability to reliably compost ‘compostable’ films improve we will have to continue using the small amount of plastic we currently do.