Utilising bandwagon techniques and a lot of glittering generalities such as “change is in your hands”, the company clearly prides itself on their environmental impacts and efforts. With the clear biocup in particular, the major sustainability concern revolves around its composting requirements. With the global lack of commercial composting infrastructure, the likelihood of such cups being properly disposed is compromised. Though mentions in their sustainability report indicate an emergence of BioPak Compost Services that mutually benefit such products. Relative to its conventional, single-use and fossil fuel sourced competitor, BioPak has made a commendable innovation that does propose a more virtuous solution.
The 200ml clear Biocup mimics conventional single-use plastic cups but is instead made from plants instead of oil. On the cup, the slogan ‘it doesn’t cost the earth’ is printed on a green banner to advocate its supposed environmental benefit. Coming in a pack of 2000, the cups retail for ~117(USD) making each cup cost just under 6 cents. Sometimes, single-use plastic particularly among the pandemic has become an inescapable practice. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to see if alternatives such as these could be implemented seeing as they serve the same purpose as other plastic cups.
Packaged in a carton box, the recyclable and degradable nature of cardboard adds value to the sustainability of the overall product. Their packaging has even earned numerous awards since 2012 and most recently won the ‘Sustainability Supplier of the Year Award’ in 2019. Using IngeoTM, a type of biopolymer sourced from plants, the clear biocup relies on plant sugars as an innovative alternative to typical, unsustainable non-renewable sources. Though, the company does mention it is only “commercially compostable”, meaning regular composting methods won’t provide the right conditions for the product to degrade itself. Knowing this, clear bioccup plastics may not necessarily be disposed correctly and equally end up in landfills and drainage systems that pose associated environmental concerns, therefore compromising the validity of its slogan.
Mimicking the function of plastic cups, the product may perpetuate single-use culture in which people will feel less inclined to reuse the cups. The lifetime impact of such a product is therefore contested, as it promotes a fast pace consumption model and additionally may falsely relieve guilt when not disposed of or recycled correctly.
There are numerous steps that go into converting greenhouse gases absorbed by plants into polylactic acid (PLA) that makes up the clear BioCup. Considering IngeoTM is produced by Natureworks, the process is outlined to involve the use of plants like corn, sugar cane, beets etc. as the source of plant sugars. Through a series of steps, the starch found in plants undergoes hydrolysis which is then fermented using microorganisms. A polymerization reaction is then used to form a long chain of PLA that is known as ingeo. According to BioPak, the materials used for bioplastics are processed in Taiwan, requiring the shipment of materials across transnational borders. The actual location of plantations isn’t specified for clear biocups, but other cups have been mentioned to rely on plantations in South America and the US. In an annual supplier report produced by Natureworks, they mention that their partnership with the Carbon Reduction Institute monitors and offsets CO2 emissions involved in the ‘production, distribution and disposal’ of products. Through this, it is evident that BioPak takes accountability and ensures an alliance between their values and those even in periphery organisations.
BioPak is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a reputable and acknowledged standard that verify the responsible use and management of the resources that go into the product. This gives the company a sense of credibility in their statements. Although, certain questions surrounding the workers conditions, particularly those on plantations and in overseas facilities make the overall sustainability analysis lack more depth.
Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Worcestershire, England, BioPak’s production aims to adopt a model of ‘profit for purpose’, in which the dualistic benefit of financial gain and environmental stewardship is achieved. Certified as a B-corporation, credibility in their actions and statements concerning environmental impact, community and worker environments are further supported. In addition to this, the company has pledged to donate 7.5% of profits towards conservation organisations based in New Zealand and Australia that protect national forests. In their annual sustainability report, mentions on how ‘transparency is the new black’ have incentivised the company to be open about their production chain, also mentioning shortcomings and future goals of the company.
Natureworks has published statements regarding BioPak’s carbon offsetting, however the entirety of the company doesn’t seem to adopt the same practices. Associated brands indicate some level of carbon offsetting, though it is hard to estimate and find information if the entire company operates on net carbon emissions.