The Problem with Packaging: Part II, Making a Difference

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This is Part II of a series on why TrailFork has chosen to opt for compostable packaging rather than the plastic cook-in-bag packaging used by most backpacking food companies. This option will not be for everyone! Sometimes managing pack weight, corralling and carrying loads for little ones, and minimizing cooking logistics must be paramount. But we wanted to see if we could convince you to give compostable packaging a try, and to shed a little light on why we’ve made the choice that we have.

Part II: Making a Difference with Packaging.

To recap: In my last entry I talked a bit about why plastic is harmful for both your body and the environment. Though companies like TerraCycle (hooray, TerraCycle!) offer consumers a way to recycle products that local recycling facilities otherwise wouldn’t be able to handle—meaning you should be sending them your used plastic backpacking food pouches!—this doesn’t change the fact that heating plastics poisons your body.

And it doesn’t change the fact that plastic is made from oil, a non-renewable resource. And what are we willing to do for oil? For a start: threaten water supplies, encroach on the rights of indigenous communities, drill in wildlife refuges, and destroy marine habitats. For me, this feels like a high price.

So how can one (tiny) company switching to compostable packaging make a difference?

First a bit on how our current packaging is made.

The pouches we’ve been using to date are made from non-GMO sugarcane. Sugarcane is, unlike oil, a renewable resource. (Some compostable material is in fact made from GMO products like sugarcane and corn, and of course the issue of GMO crops is a debate in and of itself.) So, you can stick these pouches in your home compost bin and let it degrade and return to the earth just as you would a banana peel. Pretty sweet.

Furthermore, we’re considering a switch to a unique material that it’s manufacturer calls “omnidegradable,” meaning it decomposes in the presence of microbes—unlike some products referred to as “biodegradable,” which often require certain amounts of water or sunlight to break down, these bags will decompose wherever there are microbes present. In other words, if your town doesn’t have a composting program, you could technically toss these bags in the trash and they’d still break down. No TrailFork logos floating around the Pacific Ocean or clogging up a landfill. (And these bags are 100% shelf-stable, so they won’t break down while sitting in your garage waiting for you to take them out hiking.)

We Want a Movement!

It is not our goal to be the only outdoor food company on the market to move away from plastic packaging.

Instead, it’s our goal to encourage every single outdoor food company out there to consider carefully their choice in packing materials. (We’re especially heartened by the partnership between TerraCycle and one leading outdoor food brand.) Maybe it doesn’t make sense to switch to compostable materials. I’m very aware that some folks are going to want to choose cook-in-bag pouches, and that’s okay! Furthermore, compostable packaging is expensive, and definitely lowers our own profit margin on our products. We make less money because we spend more money on packaging we feel good about. Plastics are convenient, they’re cheap, and we realize that it’s not realistic to call for a industry-wide switch.

But here’s a thought. I recently learned that one of the leaders in the freeze-dried food industry sells about $39,000 per month of one of their recipes through Amazon alone. By my rough calculations, this means that there are about 6000 plastic pouches—for one recipe by one company in one month!!!—out there.

This means more oil used, more drilling done, more water poisoned, more native lands threatened, and the possibility of 6000 packages floating around in our ever-imperiled oceans. If even a percentage of those packages could break down into harmless plant matter, we argue that we’d all be better off.