What do potatoes, Speights, prunes and Cadbury all have in common?

What do potatoes, Speights, prunes and Cadbury all have in common?

In one form or another, they’re all products that have won top spots at the Unpackit 2011 Packaging Awards. An initiative by Wanaka-based resource recovery community enterprise Wastebusters, aimed at “demystifying packaging choices”, the awards thrusts into the spotlight good, responsible packaging design found in New Zealand, at the same time shunning the worst. With over 100 nominations and close to 9000 public votes, the following winners have been settled upon. 

Best Packaging 

Taking out the top spot in the Best Pakaging category is a compostable take-away container made in Blenheim from waste potato starch. The makers behind the containers, the aptly named PotatoPak NZ, have turned a waste stream, in this case potato starch, into a  valuable product. 

In describing the potato container making process, PotatoPak explains on its website:  

“Potatoes, on their journey from spud farm to dinner plate, are blasted with water - washed, scrubbed then, at 120 km/h, pushed through a tube fitted with a set of knives to cut wedges, chippies or chips. The water, then full of starch from the cut surfaces, is processed through a starch extractor. What comes out is potato starch, a valuable by-product, after being filtered leaves another valuable resource, clean, re-usable water. 
“All waste from our manufacturing is fed to livestock, fish or worms. And, wherever possible, we use starch that has been reclaimed from local food processing waste streams. In locations that do not have starch extraction facilities, we import reclaimed starch from other locations that do. Our company plan is to expand to other countries and utilise their waste streams.” 

PotatoPak owner Richard Williams is, as his quote suggests, pretty excited about the win.  

“It’s wonderful, awesome. I’m just rapt.”  

But not content with the product in its current form, Williams has revealed plans to extend the adaptability of the packaging. He says PotatoPak has been working with scientists from Biopolymer Network in Lincoln for the last five years to produce a food-grade, 100 percent compostable coating for Potatopak which will make it suitable for meat and hot/wet foods. The products will then be microwaveable and be able to hold coffee. Williams is hoping to the launch the product by the end of the year.  

Taking out the second place in the Best Packaging category is the Speight’s swap-a-crate. This particular packaging involves refillable beer bottles with a deposit system on the crate to encourage you to return them for refilling.  

Third spot went to the good ‘ole egg carton, described on the Unpackit website as “a humble classic, well designed, made from recycled cardboard and fully recyclable”.  

Unpackit spokesperson Sophie Ward says both the swap-a-crate and egg-carton had been around for yonks, and showed that good packaging didn’t need to be ground-breaking or expensive. The finalists in this category, says Ward, show that many small to medium-sized New Zealand businesses are passionate about sourcing minimal, recyclable or compostable packaging which reflects their commitment to looking after the environment.  

But on the flipside, Ward points to big multi-national companies who are pumping out “convenience” foods such as single-serve snacks as well-represented in the Worst Packaging shortlist.  

Worst Packaging 

The winner in this category came all the way from America. Sunsweet Prunes took out the top spot for providing “individually wrapped prunes in a non-recyclable container imported from America”.  

Ward says it was a close run in this category, but it was a well-deserved win by Sunsweet’s individually wrapped prunes.  

“Ken Garmonsway who imports Sunsweet Ones into the country, claims they are individually wrapped so people can take them with them without getting in a sticky mess. 

Ward isn’t buying into that justification, saying that if people want a healthy snack, they should “make it healthy for the environment too by taking a few unwrapped prunes in washable container”.  

Brother ink cartridges came in second the list for their layers of packaging featuring japanese recycling symbols, all wrapped in a non-recyclable blister pack.   

Third place went to Cadbury drinking chocolate for its cardboard, steel and aluminium composite packaging, with the only recyclable part being the lid.  

The Unpackit team have written to all the finalists on the Worst shortlist to explain why their packaging had been shortlisted, and offered to talk to them about how to improve their packaging. 

“I know Sealord has said publicly since the shortlist was announced that they are looking to improve their packaging, and we really welcome their positivity,” says Ward. “We don’t want to get down on these companies, we just want to show them that the public does notice and care about packaging, and encourage them to do better.”

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