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Packaging

5 things we learned from our compostable packaging trial

That’s a wrap Chocolate Lovers! As part of our journey towards 100% sustainable packaging by 2025, we’ve been testing something new: a limited run of our iconic Peanut Slab in compostable wrappers. These were sold in 10 participating stores in Porirua, Wellington.

Now the 12 week trial has ended, we’re sharing what we’ve learned. Spoiler alert – a lot! From how compostable packaging runs on our machines to how wrappers break down in compost. 

“The trial was an incredible learning experience, with a lot of unknowns going into it,” Whittaker’s Co-Chief Operating Officer, Holly Whittaker explains. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of our composting experts For The Better Good and Edible Earth, the retailers who sold our trial Peanut Slabs, and of course our Chocolate Lovers.”

Composting facilities at For the Better Good

How we ran the trial

Before we jump into what we’ve learned, let’s recap how we ran our Peanut Slab trial. Chocolate Lovers in Porirua were able to buy Peanut Slabs with compostable packing (made from eucalyptus trees).

They could then choose how to compost the wrapper. Their options were:

  • Compost at home, or
  • Compost commercially, by dropping the wrapper in a For The Better Good collection box.

Over 12 weeks we collected 323 wrappers from our 10 in store drop-off boxes. That might not seem like much for a city with a population of around 56,500, but it resulted in 1265kg of organic waste being composted and over 2.14 tonnes of C02 emissions avoided!

These numbers don’t include the wrappers composted at home and we know from our survey results and comments on social, that this was a popular option for many Chocolate Lovers.

We set up a special Chocolate Lovers Facebook group for our Porirua testers to share their honest experiences. By the end of the trial, we had more than 650 Chocolate Lovers chatting away about how their composting was going – including home composting pictures and videos, and insider tips to get those worms working.

Whittaker’s Marketing Intern, Courtney Butcher, says creating a dedicated Facebook Group was also a Whittaker’s first. “Our Chocolate Lovers impressed us with their shared passion and enthusiasm for more sustainable packaging,” she says. “This makes us feel optimistic about the future of work we’re doing in this area.”

Thanks to Chocolate Lover Carole Gade, who kept us up to date with composting progress in our Facebook group.
  1. Chocolate Lovers liked to compost their wrappers at home.

    Based on our survey, 67% of Chocolate Lovers planned to compost their Peanut Slab wrapper at home. For 51%, this would be the first time they had added a wrapper to home compost! Another 16.5% of Chocolate Lovers planned to use the For The Better Good collection boxes that would take the wrappers to the Edible Earth composting facility.
     
  2. New Zealand has skills when it comes to regenerative packaging.

    Jayden Klinac, founder of For The Better Good and Edible Earth, and his dedicated team worked closely with our own in-house experts and helped us understand how compostable packaging can become a valued resource. He also helped our Chocolate Lovers to compost the right way with his tips and articles. Inside scoop: it’s the ‘balance’ between sawdust/ leaves and food scraps that makes a compost active (healthy).

  3. Wrappers seem to break down at a normal rate in commercial composting.

    For The Better Good kept a close eye on our wrappers in their Edible Earth commercial composting facility, just up the road from our chocolate factory! It was a huge relief to find out that there weren’t any major issues with the composting process. The wrappers broke down within 8-11 weeks, which is what we were hoping for.

  4. Compostable packaging used in the trial didn’t run well on our machinery.

    Our Peanut Slab machine is over 35 years old and like most commercial chocolate machines, it was designed to wrap plastic. During the trial, we realised that plant-based packaging is more rigid than our regular wrapper, so it has a mind of its own when used on this machine (meaning it moves around a lot, and is hard to pack into boxes). It’s a challenge across our machinery, and resolving it will present hurdles for other parts of the production process. We need to explore new ways of overcoming these to make sure we’re investing in the right solutions.

  5. Kiwis are keen on compostable packaging!

    Chocolate Lovers were more than willing to help shape the future of Whittaker’s packaging. We couldn’t be prouder. In fact, 92% of those who participated in our survey said you’d support a collection box scheme at stores nationwide. 

We loved hearing your feedback from our survey

  • “It is fantastic that the trial is in partnership with a local community urban farm composting project. I am really excited about this.”

  • “I would support the collection boxes in all supermarkets, but whilst it's okay with small peanut slab wrappers (I put them in my handbag for next time I got past one), I would have to collect up the wrappers at home to take in one bigger lot, like we currently do with soft plastics, which requires space at home to do that....”

  • “The packing is great! It doesn't feel or look any different from normal packaging, but knowing it is compostable and better for the environment makes me want more of it!”

  • “If [collection boxes] were located near the entrance it would be easier to return wrappers to the bin without needing to go all the way through the store.”

What we're doing next

We now know there’s public support for compostable packaging. This is great news! So, we’re continuing research into the processes that surround the compostable packaging lifecycle, and looking into setting up the right infrastructures to make it all possible. 

We’re also taking a closer look at the kind of machinery we have in our factory. We have to look at creating a whole new process to work with plant-based wrappers. It’s not a quick fix and will be a big investment to make our machines work with new wrappers, and a change that will impact many parts of the production process. This will be the biggest hurdle to overcome, but, we’re committed to exploring new options. 

“Whittaker’s chocolate comes in different sizes, and are produced on different machines. So compostable packaging isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” says, Holly. “There are other materials we’re trialing on our machines that all have pros and cons including paper and soft plastics.”

What we’ve learned from this trial has helped us shape what we need to do next. We were able to see what worked in reality, and what might be needed to make change stick. It was an important step in our journey towards 100% sustainable packaging by 2025 and we’ll continue to keep you updated on how we’re tracking (our packaging is currently 76.9% sustainable). 

If you have any questions about the trial or packaging, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!