Plastics, once seen as a post-war miracle, have become one of the defining environmental issues of our time. From the uptick in municipalities banning plastic bags to national coffee chains encouraging consumers to embrace reusable cups, conversations around the topic have moved from fringe to mainstream.
Here at Bowery, sustainability is at the heart of all that we do, which may lead one to ask: what’s with the plastic clamshells?
The short answer can be summed up by infrastructure.
The long answer reveals the complex Venn diagram companies must consider when choosing packaging that works for their products and can be considered sustainable — both before and after it is used to put lettuce on the shelf.
When choosing packaging, our team painstakingly reviewed all of the options on the market, from plant-based materials to closed loop reusable options. With all of them, we weighed a few key factors:
- Does the material make sense for our product?
- Do we know the material is safe?
- How sustainable is the material over its entire lifespan?
As a company producing a perishable product that must safely sit on a shelf for several days, we knew going in that plastics — post-consumer recycled or otherwise — were the widely accepted industry standard. Because we’re never ones to accept the status quo, we set out to find better options.
The obvious first step was to explore compostables. While no one can deny the promise of the materials, we quickly learned two things:
- Many of these containers contain harmful chemicals with no known halflife.
- The majority of municipalities did not have the infrastructure in place to compost them correctly.
Infrastructure is important: most backyard compost bins don’t generate enough heat to properly break these containers down, and some industrial compost facilities, such as those run by cities, won’t accept them — that’s assuming, of course, that the average consumer has access to a compost facility to begin with.
We then looked elsewhere for a solution, turning to innovative materials such as mushroom-based packaging. While these materials are beginning to gain traction in packaging for furniture and other objects, manufacturers have not yet been able to create a version that is food safe.
Back to Plastic
This brings us back to our choice to use plastic — specifically, post-consumer recycled plastics — and that word again: infrastructure.
To minimize our impact from start to finish, we’ve partnered with a best-in-class clamshell manufacturer in this space, Placon, which ensures that each one of our packages uses the equivalent of 4 recycled water bottles, recycled by the clamshell manufacturer on site. We have also designed our packaging with clear instructions to help ensure that they are recycled properly via curbside recycling.
Recycling is an imperfect system, yet it is still the most established way to ensure the reuse of materials in the widest number of places. And, if the ultimate goal is to ensure the longest product lifespan in the greatest number of cases, well, recycling is our best bet. Knowing our clamshells are made from recycled materials and can be widely recycled after use seemed like the most responsible packaging decision we could make.
We don’t accept this as a perfect solution, just the one that makes the most holistic sense for right now. Like we said, we’ve never been ones for the status quo.
How can I help us move away from plastic?
Our team continues to research and test alternatives, and while it may sound crazy, you can help!
Changes to infrastructure often spring from public demand — shaping this can be as simple as reaching out to your town’s elected officials about composting. Here are a few ways you can advocate for composting in your area.
When more cities and towns embrace composting programs, more companies can responsibly embrace compostable plastic alternatives knowing those materials won’t end up in a landfill.
Thank you for supporting our company as we continue to improve our sustainability practices. Stay tuned for more insights about how our packaging is made, how we choose suppliers, and how we’re continuing to evolve our business to lessen our footprint.