Plastic: It was hailed as a miracle material. It was put into houseware, bandaids, children’s nappies and accessories; it became the material of choice for everything and anything imaginable. Now that plastic is in the limelight, we want to share all the thoughts that go through our head when you say: “BOL, why are you still in plastic?”
Let’s start from the beginning.
Mass-produced during the second world war, there was suddenly a need to push plastic from the combat zone into mass-markets. As businesses adopted the versatile material, advertising efforts kicked off to educate consumers about the amazing virtues of plastic in the home. At the time, it seemed like an unthinkably incredible alternative.
Time however has a tendency to undo some ‘advances’ of the past. We have become increasingly informed of the downsides of the material: overuse, mishandling and the recycling challenges associated with single-use plastics. Oceans covered in floating bottles, whales filled with waste, microplastic entering the human food chain: these stories are what many of us have come to associate with plastic today.
The truth is – whether we like it or not - plastic is still a highly useful material: from MRI scanners to prosthetic limbs and dental floss, there are a huge range of people who benefit directly from the existence of plastic. And whilst we shouldn’t abate the progress of plastic alternatives, we also cannot put a full stop to useage right this second, as much as we may want to. How come?
Plastic guarantees food health and safety by creating and maintaining a stable environment for fresh ingredients while also being easy to ship, carry and store. When you have a product that contains no artificial additives or preservatives like BOL, finding a material to preserve food safely is crucial. These virtues are some of the reasons we still see widespread use of plastic to this day.
There’s also another upside to using plastic - a tradeoff that many people (who are not in the trenches like us, understandably) don’t see. When it comes to food in particular, plastic helps maintain the quality of the ingredients for quite some time. If BOL products switched from plastic to cardboard packaging, we would find ourselves with an equally challenging problem: food waste.
It’s simple: if food only lasts a few days, a lot more of it can end up going to waste. Considering that in the UK alone 18 million tonnes of food end up in landfill and that methane from landfill represents 40% of the UK’s overall methane production, switching from plastic to another material like cardboard overnight could just end up shifting the problem around the ecosystem. Another challenge: many cardboard boxes are actually lined with plastic, most often making them non-recyclable.
The challenge for BOL
Put simply, we would like to find a material with similar durability, strength and moldability to plastic, although this task is not as simple as it may seem.
We are acutely aware that making changes without fully understanding the viability of alternatives to plastic can be dangerous. Take bioplastic, a material we frequently get asked about. For starters, the UK does not have sufficient facilities to process the bioplastic in such a way that we actually benefit from its bio-degradable virtues. If bioplastic is not processed in appropriate facilities it can take centuries to degrade, leaving as much time to do damage to our ecosystem as virgin plastic. Another challenge is that in decomposing, bioplastic releases methane gas, which (as we mentioned) is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gasses, 24x more damaging than CO2. Not to mention cost: biodegradable plastic can cost between 30-50% more than regular plastic. Let’s be honest here, there is only so much you’re realistically willing to spend on your lunch. As a little startup, financing the cost of that alone would crash our plan of bringing you affordable, easy and delicious plant-based food.
There’s another one we are looking into on your recommendation: VegWare. We have approached them and are learning more about whether it could work for BOL. Our first challenge is that the clear (i.e. transparent) version of VegWare is not microwavable yet, putting it out of the questions for two of our three products. The investigation continues. If you’re reading this and know of a material you think could work, please get in touch.
But what about the tragic images of plastics we’ve all seen? Those are not pushed aside and forgotten. There is a lot BOL is doing to make sure we are not contributing to the problem and actively working on finding innovative new approaches. We are not excluding any option, but want to investigate each alternative to make sure we create a new system that is future-proof.
Reduce. Re-use. Re-cycle. The three tenants of our responsible behaviour. Here is what we’re doing at BOL to practice what we preach.
BOL has reduced the amount of plastic in several ranges, reducing use by 3.7 tonnes annually. We have also begun the process of swapping virgin plastic for recycled plastic.
As we reduce, we are reviewing the possibility of switching our Salad Jar lids from plastic to aluminum. Removing the plastic wrapper that covers the handy fork in our salad jar is another similar project. Further to this, we are also reviewing alternative options to a plastic fork: think wood, paper or edible. These projects are important to us.
BOL will be launching a returnable scheme by the end of 2018. This will allow us to take our lovely BOLs and recycle them back into the supply chain to be re-used. We are also thinking about more creative ways to repurpose the pots, like donating them to companies that could melt them down and re-invent them as chairs or useful items for schools. How cool would it be to have a children’s chair that was once a BOL?
All of our pots are 100% re-usable. Our Veg Pot and Super Soup jars are also dishwasher safe. We have always been big advocates of upcycling and launched our #dontwastecreate campaign long before plastic was in the public eye. To-date, we have seen our jars re-purposed in the most creative ways: As breakfast bowls, pencil holders, plant pots and donation jars. If you decide to give it a go, make sure to tag us @bolfoods
Upcycled chair made by old plastic by the incredible Pentatonic. Image courtesy of DesignBoom.
All our pots are 100% recyclable. Make sure to remove the label (and bits like the fork wrapper) before recycling. Although re-cycling is technically the last tenant in the chain, it is incredibly important: a lot of the non single-use plastic you see floating in the ocean should be in a recycling facility. Once it ends in landfill it is a true threat to any environment.
The sturdy BOL plastic allows us to have a safe product that can be both re-used and re-cycled, making sure the plastic stays in our homes, offices, kitchens and not in our oceans. The quality of our plastic is important: you will NEVER see a BOL pot that is black or single use plastic.
Needless to say: plastic is only one of the issues that we are embracing in the pursuit of sustainability. Ditching dairy will massively reduce our environmental footprint, slashing our CO2 emissions and saving water. As you may have read, we are also active in reducing food waste: from using wonky veg to being zero waste to landfill, we have a lot more we want to tell you about our work.
Every day we look for innovative and creative ways to evolve. We live by the grandpa test: success to us means looking back on our decisions with pride.
The work continues.