The food packaging dilemma
At PRANA, we are very sensitive to environmental issues and we do our best to stay on the cutting-edge of green technologies. We are also transparent about the issues concerning our packaging. Unfortunately, at this time, our packaging is not recyclable nor compostable in many municipalities in North America. Although we are actively searching for greener options that better reflect our products, a simple solution to this complex problem does not currently exist for several reasons.
In Québec, only 18% 1 of “recyclable” plastic is actually recycled - and this figure drops to 10% 2 across Canada. The greater part of plastic collected for recycling ends up in incinerators and landfills locally, or quite often in Asia. In addition, the most severe environmental impact of packaging is often at the production stage, or the beginning of the life cycle. In fact, according to a study we have conducted with an external partner, the environmental impact of our packaging is as follows: 65% is due to production, 34% is due to transport and only 1% is due to the fact that it is not recyclable! If, added to all this, we consider the energy required for collecting and recycling, the environmental benefits of recyclable packaging are far from being as important as we might think. In the end, non-recyclable packaging that contains few materials such as ours, is sometimes even less harmful than other recyclable packaging.
Why a plastic bag and not glass? Or compostable bags?
We chose to use plastic packaging for our products to avoid food waste and to ensure that the high quality of our products is maintained for a long time. Nuts are particularly sensitive fruits and can go rancid quickly when in contact with oxygen and light. Our packaging must provide the best barrier (i.e. no recycled paper packaging that lets air in!). Our bags feature a double layer plastic film that preserves and maintains the ingredients’ nutritional profile and flavour by creating a barrier to oxygen and moisture. The double layer structure is what makes recycling our packaging more difficult.
Meanwhile, glass is recycled even less than plastic in Québec: Only 14%1 of glass is collected and actually recycled. If we also consider the increased complexity of transport due to the weight and fragility of glass, this option is not a greener, nor a possible solution for us.
As for the other materials currently available, they cannot preserve a product over a long period of time or are not more beneficial to the environment. This is true for compostable bags that often end up in landfills where they need oxygen to decompose and generate methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more powerful than CO23.
Fighting Food Waste
Beyond the container (our packaging), the most important is not to waste the content, whose production often has a much more important environmental impact on our planet. At PRANA, we commissioned an external agency to conduct a life cycle analysis of all our activities. The results? Our packaging accounts for 5% of our impact compared to 81% for … agriculture, even though it is vegan and organic agriculture! Based on these results, our top two priorities in reducing our environmental impact are: working with our sourcing strategy to reduce this impact at source, and minimize food waste.
Until we can implement a packaging solution that makes a real difference, we encourage our consumers to reuse our resealable packaging (e.g., to keep fruits or vegetables in the freezer).
1. Bilan de la gestion des matières résiduelles au Québec, Recyc-Québec, 2015.
2. Interview with Keith Brooks (Program director, Environmental Defense Canada) for The Weather Network, November 2018.
3. Interview with Benoit Lamarche (Head of operations in Western Québec at Englobe) and Gilles Denis (Site director at EBI) for Le Devoir, August 2018.