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Waste not, want not: Better Burger engineers edible packaging

The circular economy is a hot concept these days, so what better way to embrace this concept than to make food packaging edible, too? Better Burger is serving up burgers this Sunday (aka Earth Day) in one-off packaging made from wafer paper and edible ink. 

The burger joint says it wants its customers to think about the world’s waste problem, as well as put a challenge out to other companies to do better in their practices.

According to the Ministry of Environment, every year, New Zealanders send around 2.5 million tonnes of waste to landfill, while about 252,000 tonnes of this is plastic waste.

On Sunday April 22nd, its Mount Eden store is wrapping its burgers in wafer paper (potato starch and water) that’s often used in baking and encouraging its customers to eat everything on their plate, rubbish included. Edible ink will also be used to illustrate the company’s usual burger branding.  

But Better Burger says this is more than a one-off marketing gimmick, and points to the company’s usual packaging. It is completely compostable and manufactured by Innocent Packaging, a New Zealand company which creates plant-based, compostable packaging out of PLA material, while its paperboard is bleach and chlorine free.

Since October, Better Burger says converting to this environmentally friendly packaging has saved more than 366,000 plastic items from going to the landfill from its five outlets.

General manager Rod Ballenden says the company expects that number to hit the million mark by 2019 – something he is especially proud of, given the fast food’s bad reputation with packaging waste.

 “When we started Better Burger, it felt like all I could see was fast food rubbish dumped on the side of the road, on footpaths and in parks. I decided then and there that we weren’t going to contribute to the waste problem – we could do better,” he says.

“I’d say we are the only fast food chain in all of Australasia with fully plant-based, compostable packaging so none of our front-of-house waste is sitting in landfill for any great period of time.”

Fast food joints are adjusting to changing consumer tastes and promising change, like industry behemoth McDonald’s. It has vowed to have 100 percent of its packaging come from renewable, recycled or certified sources, as well as have recycling available in all its restaurants by 2025.

“Our customers have told us that packaging waste is the top environmental issue they would like us to address,” Francesca Debiase, McDonald’s chief supply chain and sustainability officer, said in a statement.

Ballenden says while this is a good step, he wants to see other fast food companies go further than just promising a recyclable range in the near future. Compostable packaging is a realistic goal for many, he says.

“Recycling is not good enough. I challenge them to do more and we have shown that it is possible.”

Better Burgers ‘Earth Day’ burgers will be available from 11am to 1pm on Sunday, April 22nd at its Mount Eden branch. 

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