In a move that illustrates how quickly the parameters of sustainability are evolving, the company Be Green Packaging, LLC is moving ahead with plans to manufacture its compostable food packaging products in South Carolina. The company has purchased a factory in Ridgeland, and the operation will focus squarely on the company’s triple bottom line strategy. As summed up by CEO Ron Blitzer, Be Green Packaging is committed to a long term relationship with its host community that involves benefits beyond simply providing a place for people to get a paycheck. The company primarily uses common wild-harvested plants such as bulrush and bamboo to make its products, and it is about to set up shop in one of several states that are practically being eaten alive by kudzu, which raises the possibility that Be Green may some day help provide a management solution for the invasive vine.
Compostable vs. Biodegradable
The first thing to note is that Be Green has moved beyond simply offering a biodegradable product. The term biodegradable is open to interpretation, and if used without meaningful limits it could include petroleum-based products that take many years to degrade. The term compostable is also in need of defining limits but let’s assume that Be Green is using the word in a straightforward way, referring to a plant-derived product that enriches soil as it degrades. For the many people who have access to a garden, the difference is that biodegradable products give you peace of mind regarding the junk you toss away, while compostable products give you something of value that you can reuse – to grow more plants, of course. This design-based lifecycle model is being promoted by a new organization called the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, which aims to “transform the consumer economy into a regenerative force.”
Be Green Packaging in the U.S.A.
Be Green is the first (and so far the only) sustainable food packaging company to earn Cradle to Cradle certification, which includes social responsibility standards as well as conservation and stewardship standards. Be Green’s Ridgeland facility is designed to be 100 percent waste free, achieved through water reclamation, composting and recycling. It will not use feedstock from trees or from genetically modified crops. Bulrush, bagasse (the leftovers from crushed sugar cane or sorghum), bamboo, kenaf, wheatstraw and rice are among the fibers Be Green uses. The company currently has a factory in China, so if the Ridgeland facility proves a success, it could serve as a model for other companies to consider operating in the U.S.
About that Kudzu…
This is just too tempting to ignore. Since Be Green Packaging relies on wild-harvested feedstock, the company’s decision to locate in a kudzu-invaded state suggests that the weed may one day find itself in the Ridgeland factory. Kudzu is already being used in basketry, paper-making, animal forage, and numerous food products (calling all invasivores!), and it may have biofuel potential, too, so its potential for use in compostable packaging may be worth exploring. That would be a neat sustainability add-on, as the company could partner with communities seeking help in getting the weed under control.
Image: Bamboo by The Pug Father on flickr.com.