We’ve long encouraged comments and discussions with our customers and indeed our openness and willingness to listen continues to shape our business and how we operate. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the level of media attention, a subject that increasingly keeps on coming up from our customers is around all-things packaging – though in particular the use of plastic. So we thought now would be a good time to outline our current position on plastic packaging and how we hope matters will develop over the coming years.

Current necessity for plastic packaging

Certainly for our food products, plastic packaging is currently essential. As the main examples of current use, the sacks we use to send out seeds and seed mixes are a type of plastic called polypropylene. The key reasons for this choice are a) it has great strength and won’t tear in transit (as could, for example, a coated paper sack), and b) the material is excellent at preventing moisture penetration – which is essential to stop seed and seed mixes from becoming contaminated. In addition, the properties of polypropylene make it ideal for not being affected by oil – which is also essential given the nature of products such as sunflower hearts.

The sacks we use to send out multiple smaller products in are woven polypropylene, and whilst for this type of delivery moisture penetration is less of an issue (because any food products inside will be individually packaged), strength is obviously essential.

To expand slightly on the point about strength for both types of polypropylene sacks, the context for this is the multiple handling of them from when the transport company picks up from us, through to being unloaded at depots around the country, reloaded onto smaller vehicles, then finally delivered to you, our customers.

Recycling of polypropylene

The recycling code for polypropylene is PP5, and there are an increasing number of local authorities around the country which will take the material for recycling. So if you’re not sure if this applies to where you live, then contact your regional council. In some areas, we’re aware that local authorities won’t take polypropylene as part of their recycling schemes, but will be able to put you in touch with private companies that will.

No current viable alternatives available to plastic sacks

If we only operated from our farm shop, then a possible alternative would be a coated paper sack because the only handling would be into a customer’s car and then them unloading it at home. But of course, the vast majority of the products we supply aren’t sold this way. What’s more though, the coating on paper sacks – or ‘multiwall bags’ as they’re often referred to in the trade – mean they’re typically not recyclable anyway. So in this respect, the polypropylene sack is no worse than the paper sack – and some would argue that the polypropylene sack is actually better in an environmental sense because it can be recycled.

What the future holds for packaging

Our expertise is, of course, in farming, how to do so in an environmentally and wildlife-friendly way, producing high quality bird food, plus the study of birds, with the aim of reversing the decline in farmland and garden bird numbers. We’re certainly not experts in packaging and how the industry will develop new products in the future, so we’re very reliant on working with specialists who are. As a result of this on-going dialogue, we expect to see new products coming onto the market which will include, for example, polymer substitutes manufactured from fermented plant starch such as potatoes or corn. This example raises another relevant issue though, and this around whether it will make economic or environmental sense to switch farmland for such use rather than for producing cereals and vegetables for food – in particular if the trend for more non-meat or less meat diets continues.

If any of our customers have specialist knowledge about future alternatives to the types of plastic we currently use at our farm, then we’d love to hear from you.