One fruit sticker may not seem like much in terms of filling a landfill, but when packing 15 million trays of kiwifruit a year like they do at Trevelyan’s Packhouse the humble labels can quickly create a significant amount of waste.
“The backing paper to the fruit stickers creates about 11 tonnes of waste a year,” says Trevelyan’s sustainability manager Sarah Lei.
“New Zealand packs 160 million trays of kiwifruit yearly – so whatever waste Trevelyan’s creates, the New Zealand kiwifruit industry is producing around 10 times as much.
“It all adds up, so we’re constantly looking at our waste streams and trying to come up with novel solutions.”
The backing paper is made from silica, so it’s non-recyclable. But as it turns out, it makes great animal bedding – Trevelyan’s has been collecting and separating the paper tailings for pig and dairy farmers since 2014.
For the last two years, all of Trevelyan’s backing paper has been delivered to Te Puke farmer Brendon Bragg.
“I have three herd homes all connected together, and we have filled up the first two with a 60cm layer of backing paper covered in sawdust,” says Brendon.
“Because the weather has been good the last two seasons I’ve only really had the calves in there, so the paper is still working well.
“Once it breaks down more, the plan is to try and compost the paper and put it on the maize paddocks, but we haven’t reached that stage yet.”
Brendon says time will tell if the paper is a viable long-term option. “We’re still learning, but for now it’s a win-win situation: it’s cheap for me, and a convenient, waste-reducing option for Trevelyan’s.”
With a third herd home yet to fill, Brendon’s farm will be Trevelyan’s go-to place for the backing paper for some time yet.
“If it proves to be a good long-term option, we’ll look at the logistics of transporting the paper to farms further afield,” says Sarah.
“We’re lucky at the moment as Brendon’s farm is close to the packhouse, which is handy when delivering tonnes of paper.”
Sarah says finding a sustainable way forward for kiwifruit stickers is an industry-wide conversation.
“The stickers are a challenge really. We don’t like putting them on fruit because they don’t break down –but from a food safety and a traceability perspective, stickers are essential.
“The organic kiwifruit market is trialing biodegradable stickers. There are also industry-wide discussions about printing labels onto the fruit itself, but that presents other challenges like choosing an ink that’s safe but will last through the cool chain process.
“It’s definitely a challenging issue not just for the kiwifruit industry, but for the entire fruit industry.
“Finding a solution for all of our waste streams is something Trevelyan’s is committed to, and will keep working towards.”