Reusable Food Packaging Avoids Recycling Hassles

Companies seek new ways to get products to consumers without adding to landfills.

May 09, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Even as consumers become more aware of the issues of one-use items, such as food containers, recycling efforts have failed to tackle the giant problem of waste. Only 9% of the plastic waste generated since 2015 has been recycled, according to researchers from the University of Georgia and the University of California, reports Reusable containers, which can be repeatedly cleaned and reused, offer a solution that some believe may be easier and simpler than recycling.
For foodservice operators, plastic straws became a major focus of sustainability efforts when cities began banning them last year. Many operators began doling out straws only upon request or replacing nonrecyclable plastic straws with paper versions. This summer, Starbucks will test new cold cup lids that don’t require a straw. While the polypropylene from which the lids are made can be recycled, only 5.1% of polypropylene was recycled in the U.S. in 2015, reports the Environmental Protection Agency.
If recycling won’t do the trick, perhaps re-use will.
A U.K. company called CupClub, described as “bike sharing, but for cups,” allows consumers to drop off empty cups at collection points, where they are picked up to be cleaned and redistributed.
Colorado-based company Vessel Works simply rents cups, a business that began with four coffee shops in Boulder, Colorado, last year, and now includes seven participating stores. Consumers sign up for the service using a free app and return used mugs and lids to a participating cafe or specified kiosk. There is no up-front fee, but users are charged if they don’t return a cup within five days. Vessel’s charge for each cup is less than what the shops pay for disposable cups, according to a company spokesperson, and Vessel washes the cups and tracks them.
Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, Lost Sheep Coffee, a coffee roaster and supplier, has released a range of compostable coffee capsules made of wood, reports Compatible with Nespresso coffee machines, the airtight capsules are made from lignin, a substance from wood bark and a waste product of the paper processing industry. The company claims that the capsules will compost to nothing in a matter of weeks, and the capsules themselves have been certified 100% compostable by TUV Austria, a product certification company.
“Without plastic or glue, it is incredibly difficult to create an airtight seal over the product, but our 100% compostable, air-tight capsules allow us to guarantee a minimum shelf freshness life of 12-plus months,” said Stuart Wilson, founder of Lost Sheep Coffee.