Introducing Our Beautiful New Packaging - And the Story Behind It

Introducing Our Beautiful New Packaging - And the Story Behind It

Today, I'm sharing  an honest and open letter about an exciting development that has been months in the making. Introducing our beautiful new packaging made of LDPE #4, a recyclable soft plastic.

Looking back at our packaging iterations over the years, sustainability has always been at the forefront of our decision-making process. The very first packaging that encased our tea was a corrugated cardboard box stamped with a daunting amount of information on each individual pack (I certainly don’t miss those arduous packing days!). We then switched to a recyclable card box with a home compostable inner bag. Similarly, our large bulk bags of tea have been packaged in home compostable materials.

Webster's Tea first packaging
* Our very first tea packs

At the time, we believed compostable packaging to be the most sustainable option available to us. After seeing how our customers interact with the material and delving into bucket loads of research, it became evident that this might not have been the best option. It was time to think outside the box (literally!), and make the difficult, but well-informed choice to use soft plastic, for now...

As the backlash against plastic grows, many of us are looking for alternatives that avoid plastic pollution, and this is wonderful! However, it seems that the majority of compostable packaging available isn't as straight-forward as we're led to believe.  In a position statement from New Zealand's Ministry for the Environment they outline the many issues there are with compostable packaging and its problematic end of life. 

According to
research, compostable packaging (aka PLA) isn't suitable for most home composting systems. Even if you wanted to go the extra mile and drop off your compostable plastic to a commercial composter, it's mighty difficult to find one who will accept it as there’s barely any nutritional benefit for the soil and too great a risk of contamination with other packaging.

To add to the confusion, compostable and recyclable plastics often look identical, meaning both often end up in the rubbish bin. When PLA enters the landfill and eventually breaks down, without oxygen, it releases harmful greenhouse gases underground (carbon dioxide and methane). 

Webster's Tea Packaging
*Current packaging made from recyclable cardboard and PLA

The thing is, there's no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainable packaging.

When we embarked on this journey, we explored a wide range of potential options and outcomes. Our primary goal was to ensure high quality and freshness of our beautiful tea. Simultaneously, we wanted to choose a material that could be easily recycled by our customers and aligned easily with local recycling infrastructure. 

We eventually landed on LDPE - a #4 recyclable soft plastic due to its many advantages that simply cannot be ignored. There is already a significant recycling system in NZ with most supermarkets offering a collection service. Check out this link to see what the bins look like, and find out where your local drop-off location is. In an effort to close the loop, we are applying to be a collection point, too, which would make things even easier! 

But what happens to the plastic once it's recycled? Fence posts, vegetable gardens and parking bumpers are just a few of the fun things your plastic is transformed into! We've even discovered there's a company in Hamilton which uses the material to manufacture sustainable building materials including insulation board. Pretty neat, huh!

Here's a few more ways we're tackling the packaging problem with our new recyclable tea packaging:

  • Reduced packaging components. We've eliminated an entire layer of packaging and sticker by switching to the new bags. Previously our small cardboard boxes had an inner PLA bag, and two labels. 
  • Bulk packaging. You'll find the full Webster's tea range is now offered in larger 200 serve bulk bags which you can decant into one of our elegant tea tins to keep it fresher for longer. Selling in larger quantities reduces the amount of packaging material needed per unit of product. 
  • Refills. If you're local to our Tauranga tea shop, you can pop in to refill your tins or bags when in need of a top-up. 
  • Designed out the potential for contamination. This is to ensure our bags are accepted and recycled as intended. Firstly, we’ve avoided foiled labels as these contaminate the recyclable material with little metallic flecks. Secondly, we opted for a light cream colour for our bags, as dark plastics often can't be detected by automated optical sorters, or become manually pulled out at recycling facilities, becoming discarded as waste.

Webster's new packaging * Our new recyclable packaging made from LDPE, a soft plastic

To wrap up, we acknowledge that there is still much work to be done towards creating a circular economy, where plastic packaging is reused or transformed into valuable resources. However, we feel encouraged that this change in packaging is a positive step towards a more sustainable future and the best available option to us currently. Thank you for reading, and as always, we're so thankful we get to share this journey with you!

Mark Webster