By Alex Garden

Packaging is used in almost everything we buy, but the world’s inability to sustainably dispose of packaging is polluting our waterways, and when incinerated, our air.  

In response, policymakers are starting to do their part with more than 150 single-use plastic bans around the world. Most of these bans have focused on straws, utensils, and plastic bags. This is a great start.

Yet despite these bans, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimates that plastic production is expected to double in 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050, driven in part by global food delivery.

Look no further than China, where the online food business was responsible for 1.6 million tons of packaging waste in 2017, a ninefold jump from two years before. UBS estimates the global food delivery business growing more than ten times, from $35B in 2018 to $365B by 2030.

Which is why we’re launching Zume Source Packaging, the first-of-its-kind plant-based compostable packaging that matches the performance of plastic, but at a lower cost when produced at scale.

Our goal: Eliminate plastic and styrofoam from fresh food and food delivery packaging.

Our first step toward this goal is to partner with some of the world’s leading food brands to replace one billion plastic and styrofoam food containers by 2020. That’s one billion pieces of plastic that will not end up in our oceans, rivers, or landfills.

Our customers – some of the largest food brands in the world – are excited by the environmental and economic benefits of Zume Source Packaging. We’re excited because packaging touches every part of the food system, from farm to fork to final disposal, making it an incredible lever for driving sustainability.

In addition to decreasing pollution of our water, air, and landfills, Zume Source Packaging also drives environmental benefits at the farming level. Our technology repurposes agricultural waste from sources such as bagasse (sugarcane fiber), bamboo, wheat, straw, and other organic fibers. The use of agricultural waste significantly reduces water and energy use, and carbon emissions in its production and disposal relative to plastic and styrofoam.

Many of our food customers are interested in using the agricultural waste from their products to use in their packaging. Imagine that – fully compostable packaging that not only carries food made from the byproduct of that food but also can be composted to regenerate the soil that feeds those agricultural inputs. It’s a closed-loop circular system.

Zume Source Packaging also appeals to our customers for economic reasons. Historically, compostable molded fiber packaging could not mirror the adaptability and durability characteristics of plastic and has been up to 50-100 percent more expensive than plastic. Zume Source Packaging addresses these challenges by utilizing cutting edge manufacturing technology and material science. We use a proprietary set of formulas, and forming and finishing processes to create moldable fiber that is intended to maintain the freshness and quality of perishable food compared to paper-based packaging.

Zume first entered the food packaging industry in 2016 with the launch of the Zume Pizza Pod: the first 100% compostable pizza box made of sugarcane. Produced with fibers from sugarcane waste, the Pod helps keep pizza fresh and warm in delivery, provides an environmentally-friendly alternative to cardboard, and was recognized by Dupont as a packaging innovator and Diamond Finalist in the 29th DuPont Awards.

We’re now scaling this business beyond the Pizza Pod with the acquisition of Pivot Packaging, with whom Zume co-developed the Pod. The original Pod design is now being transformed into other prepared food containers such as cups, bowls, plates, utensils, and serving trays, which we are producing in our 70,000 square ft manufacturing plant in Camarillo, CA — the first of several facilities we will be building around the world.  

The challenge of creating a more sustainable food system is humbling. As delivery continues to transform our food system, we can either lean into a “business as usual” mindset and exacerbate the $990 billion waste problem. Or we can reimagine food delivery as a fresh start for a more sustainable food future. A sustainable food system starts with packaging because it touches every part of the supply chain. We’re thrilled to see governments taking action and honored to be providing solutions that meet environmental and economic goals of the world’s leading food companies.

Alex Garden is Chairman and CEO of Zume Inc. Zume, Inc. is creating a “sustainability fabric” of technology solutions that help food companies thrive in a delivery-enabled food system while reducing waste and carbon emissions.

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