Thoughtful packaging

Home compostable plastic

The future of plastic packaging
at Riverford

By the end of 2020, we will use certified home compostable materials for all our punnets and bags.

After many months of intensive research, we’ve decided on the sustainable future of our plastic packaging: home compostable plastic. Whether on your compost heap at home, by sending it back to us at the farm, or through your food waste bin, these plastics don’t take long to break down completely - even at low temperatures.

Our packaging history

For 30 years, environmental sustainability has been at the heart of Riverford’s ethos. We have worked to minimise the impact of packaging through our iconic reusable boxes, keeping plastic to the minimum required for product care, and developing new solutions such as beech netting.

This last year (a decade on from our ground-breaking 2-year study with Exeter University), we have put our packaging under the microscope again, taking into account new products, processes and scientific knowledge, and set our course for the next decade.

This has resulted in a good few actions already, but most important, we have come to a decision to make a radical change to the type of plastic we use.

The problem with plastic

Cheap, strong, flexible, with a lower carbon footprint than paper and infinite uses… In many ways, plastics are brilliant. It’s no wonder that the world has become increasingly reliant on them.

Unfortunately, carbon footprint isn’t the only environmental issue to be considered: staggering amounts of plastic are ending up in our oceans, endangering marine life.

We’ve continued our dedication to using the minimum plastic possible. In 2017-18, we’ve removed 180km of plastic nets in favour of compostable beech nets, unwrapped several popular veg, and overall saved 1.5 tonnes of plastic per year!

However, we can’t do without plastic completely. Without it, certain leafy veg would dehydrate before reaching your door, resulting in massive food waste. Here’s what happened when we tested sending Swiss chard without plastic bags:

chard

Succulent plastic-wrapped Swiss chard vs. severely wilted chard sent in paper or without packaging

Our solution: home compostable plastics

You may have heard bad things about ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ plastics. There are many different types on the market, and some are worse for the environment than conventional plastic. As well as being non-recyclable, they require high temperatures break down, meaning they don’t biodegrade if they end up in landfill or in the ocean.

Home compostable plastic is different. It’s made from renewable raw materials, and breaks down at low temperatures. Many are even certified to completely break down in marine environments, so they won’t cause harm if they do mistakenly end up in the ocean.

An impressive 82.5% of our customers compost their food or garden waste (based on a survey of 10,240 current Riverford customers – July 2018). This, combined with our well-honed system of collecting packaging to bring back to the farm for reuse, composting or recycling, convinced us that home compostable plastics were the right solution for us.

We can’t use it for absolutely everything yet; a few items (such as meat) will still need to be packaged in conventional plastic. But as now, we will use recycled or recyclable plastic wherever possible – and we’ll be keeping a close eye on future sustainable solutions as they develop. This is a complex and evolving subject and there are no simple or unchanging solutions.

beech netting

Our new compostable beech nets, replacing all plastic netting.

Better for the environment – easy for you

When we transfer to home compostable plastics by the end of 2020, you’ll easily be able to make sure they are properly disposed of.

  • Pop it on your compost heap at home
  • Send it back to us with your box, and we’ll compost it here
  • Some councils will take back compostable plastics in food waste bins – your local veg team will find out whether this is possible in your area, and let you know

Any concerns?

As with any major change, there are a few risks - but we’ve considered carefully how to mitigate them.

  • Home compostable plastics can be confused with normal plastics, so we will be very clearly labelling what they are and how to dispose of them
  • The base materials for some home compostable plastics isn’t renewable. We will only use home compostable plastic made from sustainable, non-GM and, where derived from trees, FSC-accredited materials
  • Compostable materials can lead to increases in littering. We trust our customers, and will be educating everyone on how to dispose of the new plastic responsibly

That’s the future of our packaging.
To find out what we’ve got now, visit our packaging page.