Kokako, EightThirty, Bird on a Wire, and the Night Noodle Markets are among Innocent Packaging's growing list of customers (supplied)

The Primer: the company behind packaging made of plants, not plastic

Every week we ask a local business or product to introduce themselves in eight simple takes. This week we talk to Tony Small, founder of plant-based packaging company Innocent Packaging.

ONE: How did Innocent Packaging start and what was the inspiration behind it?

Originally I had a reusable coffee cup company. But after doing that for two years I realised that while the majority purchased a reusable cup with great intentions, after about 12 weeks it would find its way to the back of their kitchen cupboard. Don’t get me wrong, there’s the 10% of people who use them religiously, but we needed to simplify sustainability if we were going to get the majority on board.

TWO: Did you have any interest/experience in business or entrepreneurship prior to starting Innocent Packaging?

This is my fifth company. I’ve always had a fascination with business. My mind boggles at how brilliant some companies are and how much easier they make our lives. I get really excited about simplifying things, producing more sustainable products and making our customers’ lives easier.

Managing director Tony Small founded Innocent Packaging — his fifth company — back in 2013 (Supplied)

THREE: How are Innocent Packaging’s products created and what materials are used? In turn, how do they get disposed?

We use a number of materials. Everything from wheat straw waste to plant-based bioplastics called PLA.

We consider a number of factors when we produce a new product, but it’s vital all of our products are made from plants. The best solution for our products is to end up in a compost facility where they’ll break down into carbon dioxide, water and organic matter. The speed of breakdown depends on the temperature and blend of the compost.

FOUR: Why did you decide to create compostable packaging rather than reusable packaging?

The idea of reusable is fantastic, but I don’t believe it’s realistic. Cafes have tried to offer a 20 or 50 cent discount to bring your own cup, but it hasn’t really worked. A reusable cup is a great idea, but it’s a Band-Aid to a bigger problem: food waste and the disposable packaging that follows.

We need to simplify sustainability if we want to see true change, not just by reducing our packaging waste but reducing our food waste by composting it and returning the nutrients back to the soil it came from.

Innocent Packaging now produces containers from wheat straw waste, coffee cups lined with plants, and toilet paper made from sugarcane waste and bamboo. (Facebook)

FIVE: Innocent Packaging expanded its business last year to include a toilet paper range called smartass. What was your reasoning behind launching that?

The honest story is I met with one of our now-biggest customers (before they were our customer) to pitch packaging. In short, they told me packaging was a competitive game and that I should get into sustainable bathroom products. That’s when smartass was born.

SIX: There’s been plenty of stories overseas of countries like France banning the use of disposable plastic plates and cutlery. Would you like to see something similar implemented here in New Zealand?

We should be leading the world in sustainability, not following. A ban on all disposable plastic would be a great move. A good start would be a ban on disposable polystyrene: one of the most toxic, harmful products on the market. With China banning the import of plastic waste, we need to move to a circular economy.

I’d also like to see the Government unify our waste industry and put a big focus on getting all household food waste collected and composted. It’s crazy to think that the majority of our food waste ends up in landfill where it’s starved of oxygen when it could be turned back into compost.

Innocent Packaging’s tree free TP “for people who like a wisecrack” (Facebook)

SEVEN: Do you have any plans to scale/grow further and if so, what are they?
We’ve recently started supplying a coffee roaster in Norway which has been awesome. We get enquiries from all around the world but are very focused on the New Zealand market at the moment. We would like to open an office overseas in the not too distant future but currently have no plans too.

EIGHT: Lastly, tell us about a start-up or business that you really admire right now.
I’ve been watching Allbirds for awhile and purchased some recently. They really are the most comfortable shoes in the world.


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