Our commitment to sustainability extends to how we package our sea vegetables, which is why some of our retail products come in bags that can be composted or that eventually degrade in a landfill. We continue to evaluate our packaging choices as scientists develop new environmentally friendly options, including most recently a biopolymer made from seaweed. We hope someday to use it! Read on to learn more about our packaging choices and the technology behind biodegradable, toxin-free plastic.
Our very first retail bags were paper with hand drawn labels. This was fine for when we only had a few hundred customers and most sales were local. As we grew, however, the limitations of paper bags became apparent. Their biggest drawback is that they're permeable, allowing air and moisture into the bag - definitely not good for dried preserved sea vegetables! Shelf life of dried seaweed packaged this way is considerably shorter than when it's in an impermeable, airtight container. This leads to premature spoilage and significant waste, which is why we began using plastic bags.
In many ways, plastic is an ideal material for packaging, storage, and transport. It extends shelf life because it's impermeable to air and water; dried seaweed sealed in plastic is good for 3+ years with all nutrients intact. Plastic is also lightweight, reducing both the cost and carbon footprint of shipping heavier glass or metal containers. Another advantage is that clear plastic makes the product easily visible for inspection.
However, like many of you we're concerned about the damage plastic wreaks on the environment, particularly the oceans in which our seaweed grows. This is why we were excited to begin using "biodegradable and compostable" bags in 2008. Although these bags are still made of plastic, they're formulated to completely break down under both aerobic (as in compost piles) and anaerobic conditions (as in landfills). Bio-degradation usually occurs within nine months to five years depending on environmental factors. Importantly, the packaging doesn't bio-degrade on store shelves or in your cupboard! It keeps sea vegetables pliable and free of contaminants as well as regular plastic does, but with less damage to the environment. We believe this is a step in the right direction. Please note, we can only use this type of packaging in the 1-2 oz retail bags pictured here. Our larger bulk bags are not available in this material and cannot be composted. ECM Biofilms makes the biodegradability additive used in our bags. If you would like to learn more about this technology please visit their site. (http://www.ecmbiofilms.com/our-product.html).
Today, we are still proud to use this same material for our retail bags. However, in 2012 the Federal Trade Commission updated their “Green Guides,” which aim to reduce “green washing” made by deceptive and inaccurate claims. In the new guide, only packaging that degrades within “less than a year” is allowed to state "Biodegradable and Compostable" on the label. Although our bags do biodegrade, they don't always do it quickly enough to meet this standard. We still consider our packaging material to be a better choice over regular plastic that is only recyclable, but we continue to be on the lookout for something even better. We were excited to learn that in 2018 Israeli scientists developed a bioplastic derived from microorganisms that feed on seaweed. This biodegradable polymer contains no toxins and degrades into organic waste. To learn more about the Israeli research visit "plastics from seaweed". Commercialization was quick to follow, and drink pouches made from seaweed were used at the 2019 London Marathon, resulting in 200,000 fewer plastic bottles being used. Hopefully, someday soon we can package our seaweed in bags made of seaweed!