Vegware – Eco-Friendly Food Packaging
Results & Impacts
- 2,514 tonnes of carbon saved by customers through using Vegware products in 2014 – the equivalent of over 2,500 flights from Hong Kong to London
- Winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development and the Federation of Small Businesses and Streamline’s UK Business of the Year 2013
- 919% growth in five years; double-digit growth since launching in Hong Kong in 2014
The food and beverage (F&B) sector is a major contributor to Hong Kong’s waste generation. According to the EPD, food accounts for a third of all solid waste in Hong Kong, while paper and plastics – a common choice for food packaging and condiments – together account for 39%.
F&B outlets in Hong Kong often have limited space to provide separate bins for recyclables. Where packaging can be collected, food and drink residues must be cleaned off prior to recycling, which is not always practical or economical. Some biodegradable food packaging has faced criticism because it takes a long time to decompose naturally, and increases greenhouse gas emissions on landfills. Yet consumers are increasingly aware of Hong Kong’s waste challenge, and keen to do their bit. A growing number of restaurants and retailers understand that it is in their interests to help them.
Vegware provides a range of more than 250 fully compostable food packaging products, containers and cutlery pieces made from low-carbon, plastic-free, recycled or renewable materials. The products are designed for composting in a controlled environment in just 12 to 14 weeks, and may be mixed with food waste and residues. The compost produced goes back to nourishing the ground via agricultural and horticultural uses.
To help its clients understand and quantify their positive impacts, Vegware provides an Eco Audit service which shows exactly how many kilos of carbon and virgin materials are saved with every order, and the volume of waste diverted from landfill. It also offers advisory services to help develop zero waste strategies, as well as a matchmaking service to help UK customers identify potential composting partners.
“We are seeing a growing demand for sustainable solutions to the issues around waste management, particularly in territories like HK where potential sites for landfill are becoming increasingly limited. Vegware can reduce the need for landfill and use waste to make valuable compost.”
– Joe Frankel, Managing Director, Vegware
To ensure composting solutions are readily available, Vegware is approaching composting companies and facilities in Hong Kong, providing information to them about Vegware products, and exploring potential partnership. Its UK operation, established in 2006, has created the Food Waste Network, a web-based portal that connects UK businesses with local food waste recycling partners.
Vegware is engaging actively with communities to raise awareness of the challenges that its products seek to address. The company works with international schools in Hong Kong, many of which recycle already, and some have invested in composting facilities. Vegware can help demonstrate the circular economy concept in action for the benefit of their students. In the future, the company hopes to extend the programme to other schools.
Vegware’s products must be able to compete with less eco-friendly alternatives in terms of quality, cost and convenience. While the price differential small, investment has gone into research and development to ensure that the bio-plastics are similar traditional plastic in terms of strength and heat-resistance. For F&B outlets, being able to mix recyclables with food waste is significantly more convenient; Vegware even provides compostable bin bags.
Although Vegware is a small company, its mission-led business model makes it easier to recruit talented people who might otherwise work in large corporations. Founder and Managing Director Joe Frankel is passionate about environmentalism, which helps attract like-minded people. Having that mission at the heart of the business ensures employees are motivated not only by profit and their own professional success, but by the wider impacts of their work.
Vegware is introducing new plant-based materials to the Asian market, where it faces challenges around awareness. For example, few businesses are aware they can use bagasse as an alternative to polystyrene; bioplastics made from polylactic acid have a slightly lower heat tolerance (up to 40°C), so F&B outlets require information on the correct storage and handling. Vegware proactively engages existing and potential customers to raise awareness.
While waste is an important and urgent challenge for Hong Kong, the uptake of sustainable packaging remains slow, in the food sector and elsewhere. Vegware believes the Hong Kong Government should introduce incentives and regulations to help accelerate the transition. The company welcomes the planned introduction of waste charging, which has been implemented effectively in the UK.