The company delivers organic, whole food to California and the surrounding region. As they grew and developed, the team became concerned that their use of single-use plastic packaging was also unintentionally contributing to global plastic waste.
Food and food packaging materials make up almost half of all municipal solid waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).To avoid contributing to these statistics, Sun & Swell set out to find a better packaging alternative.
At first, Kate Flynn, co-founder and CEO of Sun & Swell, ran into many challenges with the new compostable packaging. The packaging often showed more signs of handling than its plastic counterparts on store shelves. Sun & Swell realized that they were trying to force the packaging into the traditional distribution model.
“Our bigger goals were to make an impact in the world of helping transition the industry away from plastic. So instead of forcing this into a model that’s not ready for it … [we questioned] how can we take what we have and be fluid with our business model and make it work,” Flynn tells Food Tank.
Sun & Swell transitioned away from a traditional wholesale model to an e-commerce direct-to-consumer business. Flynn says that this model allows the company to use the compostable packaging to its full potential and shorten the distribution chain. It also helps them sell their products at a lower price, reduce their carbon footprint, and provide a direct line of communication with customers. Through their in-house compost expert, they try to answer customers’ questions about home composting.
Aware that not every household can access industrial or municipal composting, Sun & Swell also offers consumers other options. “We have a send-back program so people can send back their compostable bags to us. And we work with a local partner who will then compost the bags so we have an option for people to return it to us,” Flynn tells Food Tank.
Flynn wants to see more companies transition out of plastic packaging, but understands the barriers they often face. Many companies are hesitant to increase prices or worried about the appearance of compostable packing on grocery store shelves. To help alleviate some of these concerns, she thinks it is important for the food industry to work together and to educate customers on what compostable packaging looks like.
While Flynn believes the transition to sustainable packaging still has a ways to go, Sun & Swell is not the only food company tackling single-use plastics. Vivo Life packages their protein powders and supplements in home-compostable bags, and Impact Snacks uses cellulose-based, biodegradable wrappers for their superfood bars. No Evil Foods packages their plant-based meats in unbleached kraft cartons that are both home-compostable and recyclable. And Don Maslow Coffee was one of the first coffee companies to sell their beans in fully compostable coffee bags, complete with airtight valves and zippers.
Flynn is excited for what the future of compostable packaging technology holds. But until then, she hopes that the entire industry’s standards on what packaging should deliver will shift, and businesses will prioritize plastic-free packaging and work to accommodate it.
“I think the best thing that businesses can do is try to switch to more sustainable practices, and especially when it comes to packaging, is to just be open-minded,” Flynn explains. “There’s a lot of businesses that can figure out a way to think and work creatively to find a way that works for the business to make that impact.”