As the former owner of three busy restaurants in New Zealand, Ben Grant knows a thing or two about the issue of packaging. “We had about 10,000 people moving through our premises every week and around 50% of our customers were ordering takeaway”, he recalls. “Add to that all the packaging the produce is coming in and you’re dealing with huge piles of rubbish and recycling every day.”
Having always been conscious about the footprint he’s been living, Ben decided to change the packaging industry for the better after he sold his restaurant business in 2018. Together with Josh Kempton he founded Grounded Packaging, a start-up company that is aiming to replace soft plastic with compostable packaging from bio-based materials.
“The reason why we focussed on soft plastic is that it is the most problematic area within our current waste and recycling system”, says Ben.
Soft plastic cannot be processed through the kerbside recycling system because it gets caught in the machinery (side note: soft plastic can get recycled through RedCycle). At the same time, soft plastic – like most plastics – is made from petrochemicals and is therefore detrimental to the environment in more than one way.
Why we still need packaging
Yet, while the movement against single-use plastic is gathering momentum in some regions, it’s difficult to imagine a modern world without packaging.
“Packaging material fulfils an important role in life – and especially in the food industry”, says Ben. For instance, packaging is known to significantly increase the shelf life of fresh produce which in turn helps to reduce food waste.
According to current estimates 1 in 5 shopping bags of groceries end up in the bin in Australia. Globally, food waste is responsible for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. And if food waste was a country, it would come in third place of the world’s worst emitters after the US and China.
So, instead of trying to do away with all wrapping material, Grounded is helping conscious brands to remove plastic from their supply chain.
Developing a high-quality soft plastic alternative
Grounded can now offer a fully customisable range of soft packaging made from cellulose material that will degrade in a home compost in 90 days and be completely gone in 180 days (European composting standard).
Not surprisingly, their biggest demand has come from the food industry and food producers so far. But they are also seeing a lot of potential in the ecommerce sector (especially for compostable shipping pouches).
To get to this point has been a challenging process for Ben and Josh though. The packaging industry is notoriously opaque and is controlled by only a handful of businesses who own the IP. “We spent the last 12-18 months just getting out there to learn as much as possible to be able to produce a high-quality soft plastic alternative at scale.”
After having successfully launched the business in New Zealand, they have now also set up office in Australia.
Bringing transparency to the packaging industry
Since it took Ben and Josh a considerable amount of time to get their heads around the workings of the packaging industry and their supply chains, they are now looking for ways to simplify responsible package sourcing for small to medium sized businesses.
“Unless you are a big business with people who are dedicated to just dealing with packaging, it’s impossible to source quality packaging responsibly”, says Ben. “Add to that the challenge of navigating the minefield of misleading industry terms, and small businesses are really facing an uphill battle,”
For this reason, Grounded will be adding a software component to their business model this year that will allow business owners to research and analyse their packaging supply chain at a fraction of the cost and time required within the current system.
“We believe that the demand for our packaging alternative and the research tool is going to increase exponentially in the next few years as business are feeling the pressure from consumers to act more sustainably”, says Ben. “Hopefully, we can be part of a wider movement to remove plastic entirely from supply chains.”