Our Journey to More Sustainable Packaging
Over the 10+ years I have worked at Banyan, I have witnessed Banyan’s deep commitment to the environment. After all, we are an Ayurvedic health company, and we embrace the Ayurvedic teaching that our health relies on our harmony and our inherent connection with nature. We are nature—what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.
The wellness and beauty industries generate over 120 billion packages every year. It's clear that consumer packaging is a valuable vehicle to deliver products to customers, and it's also clear that packaging waste has become one of the most pressing environmental crises of our time. Significant amounts of single-use plastics and packaging waste end up in our landfills and oceans, contaminating ecosystems, threatening wildlife, and impacting human health.
For years, our customers have asked us to do better, and we agreed! We wanted to move away from virgin plastics and into more sustainable packaging that aligns with our commitments to the health of people and the planet.
As our Social and Environmental Responsibility Manager, I have had the great honor and responsibility of being involved in our transition to more sustainable packaging. We are excited to share that, as of September 2023, we have now begun transitioning to more eco-friendly packaging across our product lines!
These changes are a big step forward—several steps, really—that have been years in the making. Eight years, actually—we started this journey back in 2015, with no clue that it would take us so long to get where we are now.
I’m here to share some important behind the scenes learnings of our packaging journey.
Packaging Options We Explored
Over the course of eight years, we attended conferences and collaborative meetings, took classes, talked to dozens of packaging manufacturers, and tested and prototyped so many types of packaging materials.
During this journey—and it really was a journey—we got very clear on what we meant by better packaging, setting the following goals:
- Reduce packaging waste and pollution.
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels in our packaging.
- Source safe, non-toxic packaging materials.
- Factor in logistical business considerations, such as feasibility, durability, and cost.
Every type of packaging we considered was assessed with these goals in mind. Let’s take a look at the main types of packaging we pursued.
Benefits: Aluminum is perhaps the most recyclable material out there! We seriously pursued aluminum bottles for our oils.
Recyclability: Infinitely recyclable!
- We couldn’t find the right sizes, and we didn’t meet order minimum requirements.
- We learned most aluminum bottles are lined with something called BPA-ni, which is a deal breaker because non-toxic packaging is a must for us.
- There were some issues with not being able to see how much product is left in an aluminum bottle.
Final decision: We chose not to pursue aluminum packaging at this time.
Benefits: The idea of compostables—creating packaging that can break down in a compost pile—is ideal!
End of life: Compostability is limited and complicated, and it is not recyclable. Compostable packaging should not be placed in recycling bins designed for traditional recyclables (e.g., plastics, glass, paper) as it will contaminate recycling streams.
- Many compostable packaging types don’t actually break down in backyard compost piles, and there are currently limited industrial composting facilities across the US, which limits the effectiveness.
- There are no standard guidelines for this packaging, so compostable packaging can often be contaminated with non-compostable materials, hindering the composting process and reducing the quality of compost—a reason why many organic composters don’t want compostable packaging.
- Another bummer reality is that many compostable packaging options aren’t a viable option for many food/herb products that contain liquids or volatile ingredients, such as herbs, as the shelf life becomes extremely limited.
Final decision: While we aren’t going with compostables now, we are backing policy initiatives with OSC that support industrial composting development. We’re excited to see how these compostable packaging materials and industrial facilities continue to improve as technology and infrastructure advances.
Paper Tubes and Kraft Paper Pouches
- We love paper—it’s lightweight, made of natural fibers, degrades naturally over time, and it’s recyclable! In general, paper has fewer long-term environmental concerns than other packaging types.
- These packaging options are made from naturally biodegradable materials, including Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified papers and vegetable inks. Our paper tube manufacturing partner supports tree planting through One Tree Planted.
End of life: Highly recyclable and reusable.
Paper tubes require an inner bag to preserve the potency of the herbs. This bag is made from natural kraft paper and metalized foil/LLDPE, which is not recyclable due to mixed materials. While our original goal was to have a compostable inner bag, we had concerns about product shelf life, and these bags tore too easily in testing. We will keep an eye on innovations in compostables, with the goal to switch this inner bag as soon as possible.
Paper pouches also require an inner lining to preserve potency. The liner is made from EVOH (short for Ethylene-vinyl alcohol copolymer), and while it does not contain BPA or other substances known to disrupt the endocrine system (an important benefit!), it can be difficult to recycle in the U.S.
Final decision: We are thrilled to move our drink mixes and teas out of virgin plastics and into paper tubes! Our two new drinks, Bitter & Bold and Masala Chai, launched in this new packaging, with the rest of the teas and drinks to follow.
In 2024, we will also begin transitioning our bagged herbs out of virgin plastic pouches and into kraft paper/EVOH pouches.
Transitioning to these new packaging materials helps reduce plastic waste and carbon emissions!
Benefits: A clean, beautiful option most requested by our customers. It is non-toxic and can be reused.
End of life: Reusable and highly recyclable, depending on location. Many cities and towns do not have a curbside glass recycling program, including Albuquerque, NM, where our operations and shipping departments are located.
- Glass requires more energy and resources to make.
- It has a higher carbon footprint than all the other packaging types.
- Glass has a higher breakability during shipping, which requires a secondary protective packaging, leading to more waste and natural resource extraction.
Final decision: Because glass is clean, nontoxic, beautiful, and the most requested packaging from our customers, we chose glass for certain products: our balms, ghees, liquid extracts, and Chyavanprash.
In early 2024, we will also transition our smaller 8oz. oil size to glass, which can be refilled from a larger size.
Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic (PCR)
As the name implies, instead of using new, virgin plastic resin, PCR plastic is made out of recycled consumer products, such as water bottles, food containers, and other plastic items.
End of life: Highly recyclable. Recycling only truly works if there is a market for the recycled material. Being able to transform plastic packaging into new packaging closes the loop, making PCR plastic a good example of circular packaging!
- The sorting and remanufacturing of recycled plastic often involves melting, reprocessing, and remolding into new bottles, which requires energy that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. PCR costs more than virgin plastic and sources can be unreliable. We have not yet been able to find a source of PCR plastic lids with minimum order quantity requirements we can meet.
Final decision: In addition to transitioning our tablets to Prevented Ocean Plastic™, a special type of PCR plastic (more on that below), we will transition our 24 oz. oil bottles out of virgin plastic and into 100% PCR plastic, starting in 2024.
Prevented Ocean Plastic™ (POP)
- A type of PCR plastic, Prevented Ocean Plastic™ is made from plastic that is collected from the shores of ocean-bound waterways. This not only cleans up those waterways and landscapes, it also prevents plastic from entering our oceans.
- The Prevented Ocean Plastic™ program prioritizes human dignity and is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, a leading alliance of companies, trade unions, and NGOs that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the globe.
End of life: Same as PCR. However, our tablet bottles are a darker colored plastic, and while darker colored plastics are technically recyclable, there is less market demand for them. Therefore, their recyclability depends on local regulations.
The size and color of the packaging requires more state of the art equipment at recycling facilities to recognize and sort it into the proper category (not into the trash pile), which means it isn’t recyclable everywhere.
Final decision: With this type of packaging, we can help clean up the ocean and reduce our need for virgin plastic, and it creates lasting environmental and social impact. Starting in September 2023, we began transitioning our tablets to Prevented Ocean Plastic™. It will take at least a year to fully transition our tablet line.
Tablet bottle note: Unfortunately, our tablet bottle lids are still currently made from virgin plastic. While we have identified some sources for purchasing recycled (PCR) plastic lids we don’t currently meet their minimum order quantity requirements. When recycling lids, remember to check locally to see if your recycling facility accepts them and whether they should be left on or taken off the bottle.
Challenges and Tradeoffs
As much as we want the perfect packaging that leaves no environmental footprint, we learned that there are no clear and easy choices—there are tradeoffs for every type of packaging.
For example, let’s review glass and Prevented Ocean Plastic™, two types of packaging we considered for our tablet bottles; we ultimately chose POP, using our packaging goals.
Banyan’s Packaging Goals
Glass vs. Prevented Ocean Plastic™ (POP)
Reduce packaging waste and pollution
Glass: Currently limited availability of recycled glass packaging options available.
POP: Directly reduces plastic waste in the environment and is always made of recycled content. Does not require secondary packaging to protect it from breakage during shipping. One of the greatest challenges in the recycling movement is the lack of a stable market for the recycled materials. We are thrilled to be able to help close this loop and play a role in preventing plastics from entering our oceans.
Reduce greenhouse emissions and fossil fuels in our packaging
Glass: Requires more raw materials to produce, such as sand, soda ash, and limestone, as well as energy-intensive processes like melting and molding. Heavier, with higher carbon emissions from transportation.
POP: Lighter than glass, reducing transportation-related carbon emissions. Producing plastic bottles generally requires less energy than producing glass.
Source safe, non-toxic packaging materials
Glass: Non-toxic, does not leach harmful chemicals.
POP: Unlike some plastics, Prevented Ocean Plastic™ goes through rigorous cleaning and washing to obtain certification, and it carries a letter of non-objection from the FDA that it is safe for food contact. The manufacturer also provides a certification of compliance.
Other considerations (durability and cost)
Glass: Glass production is generally more expensive because it requires more raw materials, and it’s more prone to breaking during production, transportation, and use, which leads to safety, waste, and cost issues.
POP: Less expensive. Requires fewer raw materials and less energy to make the bottles. Durable and lightweight.
As we continue our packaging journey, we are committed to continually reevaluating our packaging choices and exploring new packaging options as they become available.
Reducing Shipping Plastics
With plastic reduction as one of our main packaging goals, we are thrilled to share the progress we've made this year by transitioning from virgin plastic mailers to paper mailers for our customer shipments. And despite a brief supply chain issue with the paper mailers this summer and early fall when we had to revert to virgin plastic mailers, we are back to using paper mailers.
In shipments containing oils and balms, our shipping team still uses plastic bags to protect oils from leaking in transit. This type of secondary packaging is used to protect from glass breakage and leakage (especially from our oils) inside customer boxes and delivery trucks.
We recognize that we have more work to do to reduce plastics in our shipping department, and intend to implement better solutions for secondary packaging in the future.
We have been invited to participate in a new PCR working group within the OSC packaging collaborative to support the industry at large. One of the intentions of this collaboration is to launch a pilot program to aggregate demand for PCR resin across brands. By supporting this work, we hope to be part of a greater movement towards more sustainable and circular packaging solutions within the wellness products industry.
An Evolving Landscape
We are excited to have taken so many steps forward and we invite you to celebrate with us as these more eco-friendly packaging solutions roll out. But our journey to more sustainable packaging isn’t over.
The industry of sustainable packaging is rapidly changing, driven by a combination of environmental concerns, consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products, regulatory pressures, and technological advancements. All of this points to a promising future for sustainable packaging.
We promise to keep improving our packaging over the coming years as technology and infrastructure present more viable options. And we want you to be part of the conversation! Keep sharing your questions and feedback with our Customer Care team, and we promise to keep listening.