Granola bars and the outdoors have been a perfect pair since the crunchy, pocket-and-backpack friendly snacks were introduced by General Mills' Nature Valley in 1975. Available now in a variety of flavors and forms, granola bars have become the on-the-go mini-meal for everyone from dedicated trekkers to hedge fund managers.
In keeping with the snack’s traditional connection to nature and the environment, Nature Valley says it has developed recyclable wrappers for its crunchy granola bars. Introduced in stores in mid-February, the company expects them to be on most grocery shelves by spring.
The Nature Valley product is the first plastic film wrapper designated as Store Drop-Off recyclable by How2Recycle, according to the company. “The crunchy granola bars are our biggest selling item, so it was important to launch on our biggest subline,” noted Ashley Soukup, senior associate brand manager for Nature Valley. “We, as the brand Nature Valley, know we need to protect the environment for generations to come. Customers have been writing to us that they love that we support the national parks, so we knew we wanted to get to wrapper solutions.”
Company officials plan to expand the packaging to other products, as part of Nature Valley's goal to achieve 100 percent recyclable packaging by 2025. Nature Valley also is promoting the Store Drop-Off recycling program.
Research and development scientists from Nature Valley worked with corporate packaging partners to develop the wrapper film made with new polyethylene polymers. After the wrappers are recycled, the new compound can be used to manufacture items such as synthetic lumber and decking equipment. The formula, which took Nature Valley and its collaborators about three years to develop, was not patented to encourage other companies to use it.
Nature Valley and its collaborators saw no reason for other like-minded companies to start from scratch, Soukup said. “We had to work with suppliers to co-invent this; we had to ensure that the product is protected, prove that the wrapper is recyclable and could run on the production line--all during COVID,” she said. “We’re not interested in providing another barrier to others. We’re excited that this can scale beyond General Mills.”
The wrappers also are a means for Nature Valley to raise awareness of the Store Drop-Off recycling program. Increasing numbers of stores have collection boxes for plastic that is not accepted by curbside recycling programs, including “flexible plastics made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE),” according to How2Recycle. Among these are certain cereal bags, plastic mailers, grocery bags, produce bags, some types of plastic wrap and bread bags. Every Nature Valley crunchy granola bar has a Store Drop-Off logo on the label.
According to the Hartman Group’s Sustainability 2019 report, as many as 70 percent of Americans want to decrease plastic waste, but aren’t sure how to do it. At the same time, more than 90 percent of Americans are within 10 miles of a Store Drop-Off recycling location. With increased awareness, a potential 295 million people could participate in Store Drop-Off recycling--especially once consumers realize the breadth of materials that can go into these bins, Soukup noted.
Nature Valley and other General Mills brands have joined forces with several NGOs to develop an infrastructure for plastic film recycling, such as The Recycling Partnership and the Wrap Recycling Action Program (W.R.A.P.), according to General Mills. A consumer education plan has been created to spread the word that Store Drop-Off recycling is available for Nature Valley wrappers and other plastics and encourage people to take their own recycling initiative.
Nature Valley also is encouraging others in its industry to work with their suppliers for more innovative solutions. “We know this is one step in the right direction,” Soukup said. “But it’s going to take a lot of action to solve a problem as big as the plastic problem.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included misspellings of Ashley Soukup's last name. We regret the error.
Image credits: Nature Valley website