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Eco-friendly Food Packaging
The Un-Greenwashed Version
The pandemic has created germophobes out of us – sure, who can blame us – except scientists have stated time and time again that basic hygiene is all we need for safe reuse. Nonetheless, single-use packaging has skyrocketed.
A silver lining of the pandemic is that a lot of us are seeing it as “The Great Reset”, and so, at least in Hong Kong, there’s been at least more talk about plastic awareness, recycling and so on.
Put the two together, and you have “eco-friendly” single-use packaging – ta da!
Not so fast. Eco-friendly single-use isn’t just a clumsy multi-hyphenated term, it’s an oxymoron. Remember that the 3Rs of the environment are: reduce, reuse, recycle – in that order. Single-use, by definition, flouts the first two, and recycling is a last resort.
The good news is, natural materials are generally better than plastic (because plastics come from fossil fuels, plus it’s now an open secret that plastics recycling is a lie), but that’s like saying, a cage-free egg is better than a cage egg – they both still suck and taste foul.
I’ve tried to consolidate the information I’ve found about the “eco” single-use packaging materials I’ve noticed on the market in Hong Kong, because I’m a giant nerd who finds sifting through information like this highly entertaining.
If you’re looking for a winner, you won’t find one. If I’ve learned anything from this exercise, lifecycle assessments stating total GHG emissions should be part of every “eco” brand’s marketing materials. This would ensure we’re comparing apples to apples, but unfortunately, all of these products are just here to tout their “green” credentials (using a “waste” material, plastic-free, compostable) and don’t offer any real information that would help a potential customer compare their options. Classic greenwashing.
I’ve summarised some of the key issues I couldn’t fit in the table:
1) A lot of these “eco-friendly” materials talk about being able to be composted and/or recycled. Both are problematic.
First, the paper recycling claims – as anyone who’s tried to recycle a pizza box knows, you can’t, because it has food on it. So, if it’s designed as food packaging, HOW ON EARTH DO THEY EXPECT IT TO NOT HAVE FOOD?
Second, the composting claims – composting in Hong Kong is not common. Home composting is difficult if you don’t have the space and time, and industrial composting is generally a user-pays service that isn’t widespread. These packaging companies do not offer any means of collection – what they’re saying, in reality, is they want to sell you this stuff, but they don’t actually care what you do with it. Well, guess what, landfilling waste that is compostable means lots of methane, a mighty vicious GHG.
2) None of the companies I looked at in Hong Kong talked about energy use – all these single-use products are manufactured on an industrial scale and require energy to varying degrees, right from generating the pulp/polymers. Why is energy use important? Because energy supply from fossil fuels is by far the biggest contributor of GHG emissions – more than transportation, more than livestock. Any “eco” conversation without talking about energy use and fuel source is nearly irrelevant.
3) Where are the raw materials sourced and products made? What are their energy sources there, what are the worker’s conditions? This is important as a lot of the raw materials (like raw materials for anything in the world) come from the Global South, which have historically been exploited for their resources, including human. Like in any manufacturing, we need to be asking if these products are sustainable for the people involved. Again, most of the companies in Hong Kong offer very little in terms of transparency.
So what’s the solution? You already know what I’m going to say: reduce and reuse! I look forward to systems like barePack coming to Hong Kong, but until then, bring your own container, and if you do use “eco” single-use – and yes, we all will – just promise me you’ll at least acknowledge that doing so doesn’t give you a green halo?
It’s been ages since I wrote a newsletter (this is my first one for 2021, can you believe it?! I’m horrible at this newsletter thing), because I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone indulge in nerdy tables comparing packaging materials. So there hasn’t been much happening on the food front. Here are a (scant) few highlights, most of which you can find on Instagram:
Yongfu – One of the best anecdotes I heard recently about this Zhejiang/Eastern Chinese restaurant is that someone thought it was one of those dodgy high-end brothel-karaokes for rich Mainlanders. It kind of looks like one – there are no windows nor any clue of what’s inside behind those opaque screen doors. I can tell you there are some pretty sick noods.
Batard – While Hong Kong’s teacup of a dining world marvels over new-Belon, you’re going to find a hint of old-Belon (in spirit – elegant simplicity) at Batard, as chef Aven Lau worked there until recently.
Hong Kong-grown coffee – The post says it all (click through). Grown in Hong Kong, yes, really!
The Meat Consultant – Speaking of homegrown, check out this new local cured meat maker – totally self-taught, JJ (who’s behind TMC) is totally killing it with Asian-inspired flavours like sansho pepper and Sichuan pepper – his Sichuan pepper cured duck breasts are just about ready, so get a-ordering! (BTW, what do you call a person who makes cured meats? I only know borrowed terms like charcutier and salumiere).
Lyre’s Italian Spritz – I was put onto Mikkeller’s non-alcoholic beer (brewed from low-alcohol producing yeast, so it’s actually a real beer) from an online shop called Sipfree, and while there, found a non-alc spritz kit consisting of a bottle of bubbly and this Aperol substitute. It’s hardly been a couple of weeks and I’ve gone through the entire bottle. It’s good, especially if you like cocktails that are a little bitter. Add any light-tasting soda (I’ve been liking Kimino yuzu soda, but hmu with your suggestions!), and it’s pretty close to the real thing.
If you feel like receiving random, occasional newsletters about food (mostly in Hong Kong), try subscribing? You can always unsubscribe later /shrugs.