The Bumble Bee Seafood Company is diving in headfirst to tackle circular packaging strategies in new ways — and some old ways.
When it comes to managing its global footprint, the key for The Bumble Bee Seafood Company has been understanding where it can have the most impact and developing scalable processes that will have long-lasting, positive effects on the environment.
And while materials innovations and recycling are important parts of the picture, one important solution is maintaining a can-do attitude toward classic packaging options.
Trusting the tried and true
This tried-and-true steel can is one of the few truly closed-loop materials in circulation today. Canned seafood has been a Bumble Bee staple since 1889; and it has yet to show a downside, either economically or environmentally. It's stackable and durable — which makes the journey from packaging plants to grocery aisles efficient. Solutions such as the steel can are rare, because they carry embedded advantages every step of the way. Recycled steel requires less energy to turn back into new cans than that of virgin steel, so its reuse is beneficial from an environmental and financial standpoint.
Approaching the plastics predicament
While Bumble Bee Seafood has reduced its plastic packaging to under 4 percent of total materials used — with a goal of using less than 2 percent by 2025 — many business models have been built on the single-use, low-cost and ultra-lightweight shipping conveniences of plastics. And while part of the solution to closing the loop on ocean plastic pollution certainly depends on companies packaging their products with materials that are easier to recycle and more valuable on the secondary market, the most critical step is to invest in recycling infrastructure — especially in rapidly developing economies such as Indonesia, where Bumble Bee sources much of its seafood.
Creating community-based solutions
Indonesia has a fast-growing population and economy; but — along with China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — its waste-management systems haven’t been keeping pace. Today only 39 percent of total plastic waste is collected in Indonesia, which is why Bumble Bee’s ANOVA brand is piloting a local recycling program.
Indonesian coastal communities with crystal clear water, such as Maluku, help Bumble Bee meet its fishing goals, but are also littered with ocean plastics. All tuna bought in the Maluku region are fished with one line, one fisherman and one hook — avoiding the use of nets to reduce the chance of ghost gear. However, even with sustainable fishing practices, ocean currents route the world’s plastics to these same waters. This is why ANOVA is developing a program to capture, process and reuse these ocean plastics through its existing infrastructure.
But building a circular economy is impossible without public awareness and participation. That’s why ANOVA’s locally led waste-management pilot program aims to educate, enable and financially motivate villagers to collect high-yield plastics and exchange them for profit. ANOVA will own the recycling centers that buy the plastic back from the community. Each center will be located adjacent to existing fish-processing plants, where HDPE and PP plastics can be ground into chips or bricks using Precious Plastic’s DIY plastic-processing machines. These machines are constructed in-house using the Dutch company’s open-source blueprints, and are undergoing R&D at their testing facility in Bali.
Recycling, repurposing and creating new products
To date, ANOVA has created molds to prototype cutting boards with 100 percent recycled plastic, which can be shipped along its existing supply chain routes to retailers at no added financial cost. Such recycled products serve a dual purpose in demonstrating the circular economy at work and recouping costs incurred from hosting the various recycling centers. Other use cases currently being tested can be used locally — such as tables, chairs or coolers for the fishermen themselves.
Not all plastics received will be suitable for such production, so excess PET (ex: a plastic soda bottle) can be sold in nearby Surabaya for further processing, riding the same existing supply chain routes to make the trip.
Building awareness, empowering communities
The goal for this system is to operate as a closed loop, successfully diverting ocean plastics from the waters. Each facet of the operation is sustainable, with excess plastic profit fed back into collection incentives and community education programs. Not only does this build awareness in these communities, it also empowers community members to gain social equity through their involvement. Whether that equity comes through financial gains or social status remains to be seen.
As this program builds out, ANOVA aims to operate this plastic collection program in 25 fair-trade fishing communities in Indonesia. The first self-sustaining operation will be in Waprea — where they will build a model and gauge community perception to scale further, once proven.
The collection programs starting today are a key example of using existing business operations to help close the recycling infrastructure gap in emerging communities such as Indonesia.
While The Bumble Bee Seafood Company is committed to pursuing feasible recycling options through its packaging and systems management in Indonesia, the company knows that collective action is vital to successfully tackling the plastics waste challenge — which is why it also encourages its consumers, business partners and employees to do their part. Carefully reading product labels and learning about local programs to find the best way to properly dispose of plastics is something we all can do — for the betterment of the health of our oceans and all who rely on them.