This is a post I have been meaning to write for a while now, but between switching to the summer menu, judging at the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC), and redesigning the website, it just got away from me. Life of being your only employee I tell ya!
The hunt for new compostable pouches for my cocktails started way back in February when I realised the old pouches just weren't strong enough. So I started calling companies to see who would be up for working on this project, as there was simply not an off the shelf product that was going to work. I called and emailed about 30 different companies, the majority in the UK with some in Europe. About half of them never even responded and of the half that did, 90% simply said "No, we can't do liquids in compostable pouches." or "You are too small." Just a few companies were actually helpful and gave me some tips and additional leads for who to call.
But the resounding answer from everyone was
"No, it won't work."
I was pretty deflated but I pushed on (pig headed stubborness is definitely a trait I carry) and decided if nobody local could help I would just have to look further afield.
I landed on two companies, one in Australia and one in Hong Kong, that were willing to at least speak to me and give it a try. The company in Australia however wanted me to use a bio-based plastic as the solution. This is plastic made from corn, cassava, or sugar cane, which at first sounds much better. The catch is it ends up being chemically identical to plastic, so you still have all the problems of traditional plastic. Not being recycled easily, persistent in our environment, micro-plastics, etc. So that was a no go.
The company in Hong Kong however, had a true compostable solution. Their main business was making compostable pouches for dry food items and sauces sachets (like a ketchup packet). But the gentleman who worked with me said he had a product he was pretty sure would work. And guess what, they do!
Cocktails By Mail new custom pouches are a combination of PLA and PBAT, are compostable both at home and industrial, and most importantly super strong! And I think they do look quite snazzy as well.
PLA is a compostable bioplastic derived from plant sugars including corn starch, cascava, sugar cane, or sugar beet. PLA has had a bit of bad press, as the majority of it is only compostable in industrial facilities that require high heat, and aren't suitable for home composting. The PLA in our pouches has been certified as home compostable by TUV Austria, one of the leading bodies on compostable certification.
The second material the pouches have in them is PBAT. PBAT is polybutylene adipate terephthalate, and is a fully biodegradable polymer that breaks down into Co2 and biomass without leaving any toxicity behind. It decomposes with the help of fungi, algae and bacteria and won't create methane or emit any toxins harmful to the environment. Sounds too good to be true right? That's because it isn't perfect. PBAT is currently partially derived from petrochemicals. There is research happening to find a way to create PBAT from starches, and the more people adopt the use of compostable material the more funding the research will get. And even though PBAT is partially derived from petrochemicals, it still contributes much less to fossil fuel production compared to traditional plastics and we don't have all the after life problems that traditional plastic does.
Our pouches do not contain any plasticizers which can leach out and harm both us and the environment.
If they are incinerated (as we are finding almost all of our rubbish and recycling is), they produce only carbon and no methane is released into the air.
If they somehow find their way into the ocean they will break down into Co2 and biomass.
So while this isn't a perfect solution, it is the best one we have available right now
Another note to point out is the difference between
degradable vs. biodegradable vs. compostable
Degradable- almost everything is ‘degradable’. That is, it’ll break down into smaller and smaller fragments, eventually becoming naked to the visible eye. What this means for plastic is often there are additives in the plastic to increase degradation (sometimes called oxo-degradable), but ultimately it leads to MICROPLASTICS which we are learning are terrible for the environment and us
Biodegradable- it means the product has the ability to breakdown to natural substances, when in the right conditions. However, it doesn't mean it won't leave toxic material behind or breakdown in any standard of time. There aren't any current standards I can find to certify what is biodegradable
Compostable- there are two standards home & industrial. Items must break down to CO2, water and biomass (valuable compost) in specified amounts of time for each, without leaving any toxic material behind. There are several accreditations and certificates to help consumers know their product is truly compostable. Look out for TUV Austria, EN1432 in EU, and AS4736 or AS5810 in Australia.
It's been quite the journey finding our new pouches, but I am so happy I did. The company I am working with has been genuinely helpful, supportive, and excited to take this journey with us.
Any questions about our pouches? Please leave a comment so your question can help others. Or feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
And a huge thank you to all the people who have done the research before me to help me understand exactly all the details of my compostable pouches.