Sustainability report: Petroleum-free package testing

by Brent Kawamura

This article was originally published in October 2018

Brent Kawamura tests out compostable plastic containers

Eighteen billion pounds of plastic waste enters our oceans each year with nearly 40 percent coming from single-use packaging. The destructive environmental impact of plastics has been an ongoing and increasingly concerning issue for PCC. As a grocery retailer, we believe it is our responsibility to minimize the environmental impacts of the food business.

Our capacity to reduce plastic consumption is greatest in our delis, which currently use roughly 5 million plastic items a year. We recently pledged to eliminate all petroleum-based plastics from our delis over the next five years and are now hard at work to make this happen.

We also pledged to achieve zero waste in stores in five years, so we are seeking out new packaging options that are compostable, such as PLA. PLA is a bioplastic made from corn that looks and feels like plastic but is fully compostable.

To achieve our five-year goals we’re working with our packaging supplier to identify new options that are petroleum-free, durable and cost effective. The process of changing our packaging is no easy swap.

To ensure that these new options perform well in our stores, we developed a unique two-phase quality assurance test replicating the ways that packaging is handled in our delis. These tests are conducted with each packaging option considered. Test phase I methodically examines technical performance, including aspects such as lid closure, ease of use and structural durability. We are asking questions such as: Does the lid snap on securely? Is it easy to open and close? Can it withstand our heaviest deli items? In one recent test we found that a compostable container could not withstand the weight of our soups, so we re-engaged with our supplier to identify other options more rigid in structure.

Once an item performs successfully under phase I tests, it will move to phase II — in-store testing in the deli. Select deli teams will pay close attention to customer feedback and ease of use during day-to-day operations as we try out these new products. If the overall performance and feedback is positive, PCC will consider introducing these new options at our stores’ delis.

We are taking on a big lift to eliminate petroleum-based packaging. Our environment is worth it.

Brent Kawamura is PCC’s senior sustainability specialist.

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