JUST GOOD BUSINESS CASE STUDY : When waste is good

Imagine world where every container you toss away is guilt-free, where packaging is truly recyclable and breaks down into organic compounds that help feed the earth.
It’s dream that has started to come true for Grant Hall of The Good Packaging Company, thanks to four friends and lots of big ideas.
Already the company has bottled water in pale blue plastic-like bottle that will compost in 45 days if you bury it. It makes sustainable ice-cream tub for Kohu Road Ice Cream that can be truly returned to dirt and nutrients. And now it’s almost ready to offer the world’s first compostable green wine bottle.
The success of its first three projects has the company fired up and ready to take over the world of sustainable packaging. Hall says the company grew out of hard lesson he learned when he was member of the New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association and was asked to join committee studying waste plastic bottle recycling.
“Like most people, I was diligently putting bottles into the black bin, thinking some good was coming of it. But what I discovered was that every 20 minutes truck would arrive at the materials recovery centre in Auckland, full of used plastic bottles.
“I found they were crushing them, baling them, shipping them overseas and selling them to the highest bidder, at that time China. We went up to China with camera crew and found at best they were turning our bottles into nylon flags and sending them back to us, where eventually they would turn into landfill.
“Otherwise they were burning them for energy. Burning plastics creates toxic fumes that are causing vast devastation to the environment. Plastics are infused with toxins, hardeners and metal oxides, and no one knows the long-term impact on the earth of those waste gases.”
Hall says his findings changed nothing and he became depressed by what the beverages industry was doing to the earth, both in landfills and in the sea, where bottles circulate on gyro currents.
“I found the situation morally repugnant. There’s been no change, in fact the recession has worsened the situation. It’s clear recycling is not working: At best we only recycle 11 percent anyway, and 90 percent goes into the landfill.”
Frustrated, he resigned from the committee, and from the Juice and Beverage Association. “I made commitment to come up with an alternative solution, to create bottle that was made from sustainable resources, with no chemicals. Bio-plastics have been around for long time, but oil has been so cheap that industry didn’t pursue it as viable alternative. I decided to start there.”
His company created Bio Flex, bio-polymer, which is an organic material sourced from plants and developed in an ethical process to replace the petro-chemical based alternatives, primarily plastics.
He started business with the Sir Peter Blake Trust on the first product, water bottle made from horticultural and agricultural waste, which took two and half years to develop.
At the Scion Crown Research Institute, he found 340 scientists using industrial biotechnology to create new materials, energy products and green chemicals from organic waste products. “We partnered with them and some other talented materials engineers and bottles engineers to create square bottle.”
Square bottles are the optimum shape for storage, he says, using less space per square metre to stack. However, engineering the base and corners of square bottle took lot of time, testing, trial and error.
It was big news when it worked, resulting in invitations to Japan for World Earth Day and to Mexico for the World Bottled Water Congress in 2007, and winning recognition in the US academic world.
You have to ask, if it’s so good, why isn’t everybody doing it? Hall looks pensive. “Quite simply, it is more expensive. Each bottle costs 15 percent more to manufacture. Big companies want to do it, but they’re holding off.”
Hall’s company may not be producing vast numbers of truly recyclable bottles worldwide yet, but as result of the project and its high profile, it has had lot of enquiries, both from New Zealand companies and overseas ventures wanting to develop other ethical products.
“The most exciting is the wine industry. Peter Yealands has New Zealand’s leading environmentally sustainable winery, based in Marlborough, and he’s bravely committed to doing his wine in plastic bottle. We are now close to releasing the world’s first compostable green bottle. This is New Zealand innovation, but it’s not quite retail-ready yet,” says Hall. He says the New Zealand wine industry is under lot of pressure overseas, due to the distance we have to ship our products, so fully compostable wine bottle will make big impact.
The company has also developed an ice-cream container that will freeze to -40 degrees Celsius and is being used by organic ice-cream manufacturer Kohu Rd Ice-cream.
There are four partners in The Good Packaging Company team, Hall (who does business development), Rebecca Burt (designer), Grant Jeffrey (manufacturing) and Melanie Smith (administration).
They see their role beyond just producing bottles, but as inspiring change and helping other people upgrade their packaging, says Hall. They are happy to work with companies looking for sustainable packaging. The company has fans in high places, for example, Prime Minister John Key, who came to the launch party of the sustainable bottle and keeps in touch, says Hall.
As the next part of product stewardship programme, the company is planning to extract its bottles out of the waste stream, hydrolyse them, infuse with organic nutrients and then reform them into seedling pot for the forestry industry.
“We’ve already done it with pohutukawa seedlings,” says Hall. “We’re working with New Zealand forestry on the product. Workers can leave the seedling in the pottle when they plant it in the ground, and as it degrades, it nourishes the plant.” They claim trees will mature three years faster using this method, plus the waste can be used as raw materials to create another bottle.
“You’re adding value in every stage of its life,” says Hall. “The old model with packaging was ‘cradle to the grave’: use it, then throw it away. You can’t do that any more. You have to start by designing products made from sustainable resources, so they can be up-cycled into another product.
“Sustainability is not enough, the next step is ethical added value.”

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