This Kiwi Duo Is Tackling The Colossal Plastic Waste From Online Shopping
The Better Packaging Co is tackling the mountainous waste caused by a global obsession with online shopping, and its efforts are not going unnoticed
Have you ever felt your excitement turn to dismay when the earrings you bought online turn up in a box 10 times their size, marooned in a sea of polystyrene balls? Or torn open a courier bag only to baulk at the layers of plastic foam encasing that chic new tote you purchased?
So have Kate Bezar and Rebecca Percasky, the Auckland-based founders of The Better Packaging Co, which provides eco solutions to the growing mountain of plastic created by online shopping. And it is growing, with 85 billion packages sent worldwide last year alone, an increase of 104 per cent from 2014, according to Statista.com.
The Better Packaging Co’s range of biodegradable and home-compostable courier satchels, poly bags, ziplock bags, courier labels and custom-branded packaging is an antidote to all that plastic and is quickly being noticed by New Zealand companies as a trusted form of sustainable packaging.
“The fact that we use too much packaging has always played on my mind,” says Rebecca. “I’ve been aware of it from a young age.” Her quest for a solution began three years ago after witnessing first-hand the number of e-commerce sales in New Zealand through her role at Starshipit, a software company connecting e-commerce platforms with courier companies.
“I saw how quickly e-commerce is growing, at a rate of 50 per cent every two years, which is huge. That’s an extraordinary amount of packaging. Every online order gets packed in a satchel or box, usually with bubble wrap. So I set out to find a sustainable courier satchel.”
It took two years of research to find the “game-changing” product that forms the basis of Better Packaging Co’s first product, the 0Pack range of recyclable soft plastics. It's made from limestone — a waste-product of the stone, marble and tile industries — using a dry process that doesn’t require acid, bleach or water, is carbon neutral and generates no emissions. Rebecca called on her ex-colleague Kate, a skilled marketing and branding consultant, to work on the project.
For Kate, who spent seven years editing ethically and socially minded magazine Dumbo Feather, answering “yes” was easy. “We always came up with great things in our previous working relationship [at Starshipit]. Finding someone who drives you higher and really pushes you to look at something differently, that’s where magic happens.”
It’s been a swift learning curve for the duo, who’ve since focused on home compostable packaging after a trip to Auckland’s Visy recycling plant revealed the reality of the 0Pack being successfully recycled. Visy’s sorting procedures mean the bag isn’t recognised as plastic or paper because of its paper-like appearance, meaning it ends up in landfill if thrown in a kerbside recycling bin. It has to be recycled with soft plastics at specific collection points at supermarkets in Auckland and Hamilton.
“We had to do a stocktake and look at what we were going to produce,” says Rebecca. They began investigating a compostable option, which is now the star of the range. Made from 100 per cent biodegradable and compostable materials, notably corn starch, the beautifully designed range of silky black and white satchels, sleeves, envelopes and bubble wrap bags break down within 90 days in a home composting system and are worm friendly. Recipients are encouraged to re-use the bags, after which they can be thrown into a home compost, bokashi or worm farm along with dry matter like leaves or grass clippings.
Kate and Rebecca officially launched their packaging in July 2018, and sold out in two weeks. The next order also sold out in two weeks and since then they’ve sold more than four million bags to the likes of New Zealand fashion brands Maggie Marilyn, Karen Walker, Juliette Hogan, Marle and Kate Sylvester, and Australian companies Marcs, David Lawrence, PE Nation, Billabong, Roxy, Rip Curl, Stylerunner and many more.
“A lot of companies are looking at their supply chain and doing everything they can to do things ethically and to then have to put a beautiful product into a plastic satchel, that’s been a real pain point for them,” says Kate. “So for us to come along and give them a solution for that final mile to the customer that fits with their value systems and is sustainable is why we’ve had such good uptake.”
That all sounds fantastic but how many New Zealanders actually compost? “The stats say that 35 per cent of New Zealand homes have access to a compost system,” says Rebecca. “We take product stewardship really seriously so we have a number of initiatives we’re working on that will ensure everyone is able to dispose of our packaging correctly.” This includes an app that will pinpoint the closest drop-off point for Better Packaging Co bags for those without a home compost system.
“We want to start a composting revolution because other than stopping shopping, this is the number one thing we can to do help with global warming.”
In an industry rife with “dangerous” greenwashing, The Better Packaging Co is upfront with its labelling and uses humour as a way to cut through the noise.
Their black courier satchels read “I’m a Real Dirt Bag” and “Before long, worms will be eating me for breakfast.”
Kate says, “We wanted to be the most trusted, open, authentic and respected player in this space and that means warts and all, providing info. Nobody wants to read the fine print, so we had to make it accessible. We’ve tried to do it in a fun way but be responsible about it.”
This means as well as stating what their bags can do, they’re also upfront about what they can’t do. Production of their compostable bags isn’t carbon neutral but they’re working on it.
“We’re in the process of carbon neutralising all of our production and shipping and the resources we use in our office,” says Rebecca. In the meantime, they offset their carbon footprint with native forest credits through international non-profit Ekos.
The success of their product has been rapid, and social media has played a big part. “It’s been incredible for growth,” says Kate, with companies quick to share their new eco-credentials with customers on Instagram and Facebook. “That goes out to all their customers, so it’s this snowball effect. And because our bags contain our branding, it’s like having four million little flyers out there. It’s been a really neat marketing tool.”
For companies, it’s a quick and easy win to switch over to sustainable packaging. “And a very visible win. Once they’ve embedded that change then they might start looking at their poly bags, or their labels, or looking further up the supply chain,” says Rebecca.
The Better Packaging Co has had some recent wins too. It’s been adopted by Aramex Couriers (previously Fastway) as its preferred supplier of sustainable packaging and picked up an Impact Investment Readiness Grant from The Akina Foundation, which helps social enterprises looking to scale up.
“The amazing thing about what we’re doing is that it’s a success no matter what happens because we’ve started a conversation about composting,” says Rebecca. “We’ve replaced all those plastic bags. It changes the way you operate and deal with people when your objective is all about what’s best for the environment.”
Want to set up your own home composting system? Find easy-to-follow expert tips here.