Compostable packaging: are our AHO bags really biodegradable?
Okay, reality-check: it's 2020 and with over seven billion people on the planet we've managed to create a lifestyle that offers us all the excitements one can imagine - and, incidentally, an infinite number of environmental problems at that. Everything our society produces, no matter how small, is packed head to toe in plastic. Not to mention all the unnecessary paper, aluminium and other by-products needlessly offered to us with every purchase we make. So much of this rubbish ends up in our rivers and oceans. The extent of the tragedy is hardly tangible. "But what can we do to change it?" I asked myself. Here' s what I decided:
When friends and acquaintances started encouraging us to put our sprouted grain crackers on the market, I started to think long and hard about the responsibility I would have to carry as a producer for the modern-day market. Starting a company and manufacturing a product has a huge impact on ones society and environment. And it's not just a question of packaging. You have to consider the whole production process, the transport, purchasing of ingredients, employee wages, working conditions... You get the picture.
So let's take a look at the packaging to start off with. We found this compostable packaging after months of seemingly endless research. After many unsuccessful attempts using cellulose film - a type of packaging used by a well-known Dutch chocolate factory - we finally stumbled across something that worked for us. A packaging manufacturer from Germany offered a kind of compostable, organic, stand-up pouch. The bag is made from of untreated paper, vegetable cellulose film and, most importantly, it has a zip fastener made entirely of cellulose. I can't begin to describe my elation at this find. I'd heard of biodegradable materials like cellulose film, but I was shocked that even the zip lock part could be completely compostable! I was ready to put it to the test.
I'm happy to say that it's now the exact bag that we use for our AHO crackers. But we didn't just start using it right away! Oh no. First we had to make 100% sure it would work. So we put the organic stand-up pouch to the test: we wanted to see just how biodegradable it actually was. For this, we put the bags on our compost heap at home. Our organic heap contains fruit, vegetables and green cuttings from the garden. The test started on August 1st 2019. I put the bag in between leaves, fruit bowls, carrot greens and some cooled ash. The bag fitted in well with the pile and began to absorb moisture day after day.
According to the manufacturer, the organic stand-up pouch is broken down completely after 180 days - leaving no residue. Almost every day for the past 3 months I went to the compost heap to take out our organic waste. I could see the development with my own eyes. The paper became damp and slowly decomposed within 4 weeks. The cellulose film initially remained, but after about 6 weeks cracks started to form within it as well.At the 9-week mark the bag had broken up into smaller pieces. A contributing factor was that I mix our compost with dry leaves every two weeks. After about 10 weeks did still find a few pieces here and there, including the cellulose zipper from the bag. But, who'd have thought? After about 16 weeks, i.e. 3 months, I couldn't find a single piece of the bag left. I could hardly believe it. There really was nothing left. Unconvinced, I rummaged around in the compost, moving the whole pile around and digging under it. The bag was gone!
100% biodegradable packaging.
I am thrilled by the result. The stand-up pouch could be completely composted within 180 days. So composting our bags is completely fine for all of you customers out there! However, if you don't have an efficient, fully-functioning compost heap I would say that disposing it through larger industrial waste chains is also fine. If you put it in the bio-bins, they will actually be able to decompose much faster with all the other compostable rubbish than in your own garden. So get the best use out of your bags while you need them, then pop them into the organic waste bin.