By Tristan Woodsmith
There are many factors that go into our packaging decisions, from functional considerations like appearance, quality, and convenience, to environmental considerations such as material composition, carbon footprint, and end-of-life recyclability. We put a lot of thought and care into these choices, choosing materials that not only protect the quality of the product, but are environmentally responsible. These choices serve to reinforce our ongoing >10x Climate Positive commitment¹.
For our Host Defense® Mushrooms™ supplements, we use ecologically responsible packaging materials designed to minimize our overall footprint. Most of our packaging has been recycled and can be recycled again. We have selected a combination of materials including 100% Post-Consumer-Recycled (PCR) plastic for our capsule bottles and powder canisters, inert amber glass for our extracts and sprays, and PCR cardboard for our packaging. Let’s dig a bit deeper into each of these materials, and what makes them both functional and environmentally-conscious.
We use PCR plastic containers for both our Host Defense® capsules and powders. The specific material is known as Polyethylene terephthalate - abbreviated to PET or PETE - and is identified by a “#1” stamped on the container. Some of the many advantages of this material include being light-weight, durable, and recyclable at end-of-life. Additionally - and importantly to our carbon footprint - the PCR plastic we use for our capsules bottles and powder canisters has been manufactured from 100% post-consumer recycled materials. This is not something that manufacturers of plastic containers typically offer because of the high cost to produce. But, because lowering our overall footprint has been a part of our ethos since the beginning, Host Defense® has chosen to invest in 100% PCR plastic containers.
What does 100% PCR plastic actually mean?
PCR stands for "Post-Consumer Recycled" and it means that 100% of the material used to make our bottles and canisters has had a previous life as a different plastic item. Whether this material comes from the waste stream of manufacturing processes or from your recycling bin, using recycled plastic gives a new life to materials that would otherwise be destined for the landfill. Anything made with new, “virgin” plastic creates a whole new product with a whole new product lifecycle and footprint. Unfortunately, making virgin plastics costs less than using recycled materials, which puts recycled plastic at an economic disadvantage compared to virgin plastic. The higher cost of using 100% PCR plastic means that most companies choose to use the less expensive, virgin plastic option for their needs.
How does using PCR packaging help the environment?
By choosing to use 100% PCR for our bottles and canisters, we are not only reducing the demand for petroleum and decreasing the number of new materials in existence along with their corresponding carbon footprint, but we are increasing the demand for recycled plastic. If more companies would make the financial commitment to use recycled plastics for their container needs, that would divert additional plastic from landfills and further stimulate the market for recycled materials. As more and more companies make responsible decisions regarding their packaging, a renewable, circular economy will develop. Recycled plastic can be a major part of this economy, and can represent a sustainable alternative to the traditional linear model of single-use plastics.
It is important that the material we choose to contain our products takes into consideration the unique properties and ingredients being used. The quality and function of the container can directly impact the quality of the product. For both our mushroom mycelium extracts and our MycoShield® sprays, an alcohol solution is used because it makes for an efficacious delivery method. As alcohol can be a slightly reactive substance, using a glass container that won’t react chemically with the alcohol is the ideal choice for these products. We use inert amber glass bottles that effectively maintain the quality of our extracts and sprays. Besides being inert, the glass bottles we use also offer the advantage of being nonporous, and recyclable.
Is glass more eco-friendly than plastic?
Some environmentally-savvy customers have asked why we don’t use glass for all of our products, including capsules and powders. Although on the surface it may seem that glass is more environmentally friendly than plastic, this is not necessarily the case. If you consider the entire life cycle of a container - materials, manufacturing, and transportation - the overall footprint of a glass container can end up requiring more fossil fuels than its plastic counterpart.
A glass bottle typically requires more material, more water, and more energy to produce than the same-sized bottle made from PETE. This is mostly because glass has to be much thicker to achieve the same strength. In contrast, a PETE bottle weighs less than its glass counterpart. Although the actual weight difference of a single bottle may not seem like much in your hand, when you consider that these products have to be transported in bulk shipments from the bottling plant to the manufacturer or the retail stores, the additional weight can increase the overall footprint. In addition, more fragile glass containers can’t be packed as tightly as plastic. Considering all these factors combined, it comes as no surprise that transportation emissions can be higher for glass than plastic.
Balancing Quality and Sustainability
It’s important to remember that the material we choose can play a major role in maintaining the quality of the product. While using an inert amber glass is important to maintaining the quality of our liquid extracts and sprays, using 100% PCR plastic for our capsules and powder containers is the right choice for both preserving the quality of our product and for decreasing our overall carbon footprint.
Recycled Paper and Cardboard
Our capsules, extracts, MycoShield® sprays, and teas all come in some form of cardboard carton. As a material, cardboard is lightweight, biodegradable, and can be easily recycled. The paper and cardboard materials we use are environmentally conscious, containing a large percentage of recycled content. An excellent example is the packaging for Host Defense® MycoBotanicals® Teas, which includes unbleached, staple-free, natural fiber tea bags, and boxes from recycled material printed with plant-based inks.
Our Choices Matter
When it comes to sustainability and evaluating our impact on the climate, packaging is an area that we feel is particularly impactful. As packaging alone can account for a significant portion of a product’s carbon footprint, choosing materials wisely is extremely important. In fact, it is so paramount that we included packaging as one of our Climate Collaborative commitments. The packaging landscape is complex, and there is no perfect answer. By balancing functional and environmental considerations, we are able to offer packaging that is ideal for the consumer, and friendly to the environment. We continually seek new materials, but we also have to ensure that they are effective, safe, and aligned with our sustainability goals and our >10x Climate Positive Commitment¹.
The Need for Collaboration
Although plastics offer many benefits, the traditionally linear, single-use, disposable value chains that have dominated for the past half-century have significant economic and environmental drawbacks. By choosing to use only 100% PCR plastic for our capsule bottles and powder canisters, we are catalyzing action and encouraging innovative recycling solutions in the circular plastics economy. This is a new way of thinking; harnessing the benefits of plastics while addressing their drawbacks, and delivering better economic and environmental outcomes. Right now, there is no denying we are in a climate crisis. All of us must take steps to change course; from the largest corporations down to each individual: the decisions we make matter. In the spirit of collaboration and shared humanity, we invite other companies and individuals alike to join us in this fight to save the planet.*
*You can join us by connecting with your local municipalities and sustainability organizations to help support this bold and much-needed paradigm shift. TerraCycle is one such organization that is dedicated to finding ways to recycle a wide range of materials and helping to eliminate landfill waste. They offer innovative solutions to help you responsibly dispose of everything from plastic containers to clothing, shipping materials, and more. If you aren’t sure what your local recycling options are, check out the TerraCycle website for more information: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/
¹Refers to scopes 1 and 2 emissions offsets.