Backyard Compostable for Loose-Leaf Tea

Arbor Teas is an online retailer of organic loose-leaf tea based in Ann Arbor, Mich. that has been undergoing iterative change toward greater sustainability for the past decade.

GOLD AWARD—Sustainability—Arbor Teas Organic Tea by Polykar, Eagle Flexible Packaging, Futamura USA, Inc.
GOLD AWARD—Sustainability—Arbor Teas Organic Tea by Polykar, Eagle Flexible Packaging, Futamura USA, Inc.

The most recent package development—one that earned a 2020 Gold FPA Award in the Sustainability category—comes in the form of a backyard compostable package system.

The company’s most recent bag structure, prior to this FPA Award-winner, was also backyard compostable, and the company had been quite pleased with it. But over time, and particularly when exposed to cold temperatures, the previous bag became brittle and was more prone to breaking than Co-founder Aubrey Lopatin would have liked. To address this, converter Eagle Flexible Packaging suggested a new lamination using films and sealants from Futamura USA, Inc. and Polykar, respectively.

“The combination of those two layers resulted in our current bag, which is much more supple and doesn’t get as brittle,” says Lopatin. “It’s much improved and works a lot better for us.”

The printed web layer of the multi-layer film structure is composed of NatureFlex™ from Futamura, a cellulose film made from wood pulp. The thin film is sourced from sustainably managed trees, composts quickly, and is lightweight, meaning there’s less to ship. Laminated over the printed layer is sealant layer PKBIO200C from Polykar. This film is derived from partially bio-based resin, from corn feedstock. It has high clarity, a low seal initiation temperature, and the resin it comes from is certified to ASTM D-6400 industrial compostable, plus is home-compostable by TUV in Europe. Also, all of the ink from Eagle is water-based and two of the three inks are metal-free.

This lamination achievement was enough to convince FPA judges, but the bag’s backyard compostability chops don’t end there.

“Having a compostable bag posed one main problem: how would we label it?” asks Lopatin. “We have over one hundred teas in three different sizes, and we couldn’t afford to print an individual bag for each tea. But we couldn’t find a compostable label with a compostable adhesive.”

The answer came from PURE Labels™ from Elevate Packaging, backyard compostable labels composed of hemp-based or sugar cane-based paper. The sugar cane fibers are collected from sugarcane waste, thereby diverting waste from landfills to paper production. They’re adhered with an innovative compostable adhesive that is vegan and meets the requirements of DIN CERTCO and BPI for biodegradability and compostability, in addition to being compliant with the ASTM D6868. Arbor Teas prints the labels in-house.

Finally, Arbor Teas’ recent iterations of backyard-compostable bags are lighter than the company’s earlier packaging (metal tin, paperboard tube, and kraft bag), and lighter than many other options on the market. Overall, the company was able to reduce the weight of its packaging materials by more than 60%. This translates to a meaningful reduction in the carbon footprint of Arbor Teas’ operations. And in response to customer requests, this packaging also accommodates more tea. On average, Arbor Teas packages contain 27% more tea than they did previously, a unique reversal of the “shrinkflation” trend we discuss in this article.

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