One question we often get here at Harney & Sons is if we use plastic for our sachets. First, we welcome these questions because we share our customers’ concerns for what we put in our bodies and the environment, and second because we want to be fully transparent about our products. So thank you for asking!
To begin, let’s note the correct definition of “plastic” -- plastic is something that can be molded or shaped easily (unlike rock). Plastic materials have often come from petroleum byproducts. Things have changed over the last decade or so, however, with cornstarch becoming a plant-based source used in plastics. But even cornstarch used some genetically modified material, so while a better solution, not the perfect one. Progress is being made, however, as non-GMO sugarcane has become available in the last few years.
Today, we’re pleased to be able to say that almost 40% of the material used to enclose our teas is from compostable sugarcane. In August of this year, it was zero percent, so we feel like we’re making good progress!
At this point, we are using these new bags on our 50-count sachets and Classic line. While we want to offer this new material for all our sachet teas, it will take some time to get to 100%. It will not surprise anyone to hear that the pandemic significantly slowed down our ability to get up to speed as quickly as we wanted to, but we are getting there!
As I shared in our August update, we had three new machines installed that can run this new material, which is how we went from 0-40%. Our remaining machines are currently being retrofitted to be able to run this new material. It’s a bit like installing seat belts on a 1960’s car or think about how they had to make a carbon dioxide scrubber on the damaged Apollo 13 rocket using only what they had on board. There is experimentation. Earlier this month, we had a visit from the Japanese manufacturer. He is a U.S.-based salesman, not a technician since they cannot travel from Japan to the U.S. yet. He was able to come up with a workaround that should make all the old machines able to handle this new material. We’re eager to try the solution out -- fingers crossed!
Meanwhile, we are running nylon on the remaining machines. Our goal is to get them converted to sugarcane material ASAP.
I also recently met with scientists at the Cary Institute. The Institute will start an inquiry into making industrial compostable material biodegrade in a home compost pile, which it currently is not. This would be a game changer. Don’t you love science?!
Harney & Sons is also working on converting other petroleum-based packaging into compostable material. As you can see, there’s a lot going on, and as soon as we’ve got news to share, we’ll shout it from the rooftops! Thanks for your patience as we slowly turn this battleship around.