Brands that support healthy and sustainable lifestyles face a contradiction when it comes to one aspect of their products: the packaging. Plastic has dominated the market as the most affordable, viable packaging option for many products but at the cost of lasting environmental impact. However, a North Carolina research team has spent the past decade developing a renewable solution for brands that are unwilling to compromise.
Earth Renewable Technologies (earthbottle.com) uses components from plants and minerals to create renewable materials and plastic alternatives. Driven by respect for the environment, the company’s technology focuses on responsible use of the planet’s limited resources. Its primary innovation is EarthMatter, a proprietary biopolymer that, according to the company, uses no fossil fuel ingredients and does not contain toxic plasticizers.
Just as Earth Renewable Technologies was beginning to develop EarthMatter, Gaia Herbs, a leading herbal supplements manufacturer, was preparing to add the first dietary powder to its line of more than 200 liquid extracts, teas and patented Liquid Phyto-Caps.
However, Gaia was conflicted when choosing a container for its new product. The standard container for dietary supplement powders was petroleum-based plastic, which wouldn’t align with the company’s mission, vision and values. Led by CEO and founder Ric Scalzo, Gaia had maintained a commitment to sustainability since it started making organic herbal supplements more than 20 years prior. Biodiesel fuels Gaia’s fleet of tractors and trucks. Solar panels help heat the water at its headquarters. Even its cardboard waste gets converted into 100 percent recycled shipping cartons. Gaia’s core values do not support the use of non-renewable materials. The company had to find another packaging option.
“Our mission drives everything we do, so we look for solutions that uphold our values,” says Todd King, Gaia’s vice president of marketing. “We aim to be as vertically integrated as possible, and our packaging is no exception.”
Gaia found that Earth Renewable Technologies’ values aligned with its own, and the two companies began a partnership to develop a renewable packaging solution for Gaia’s line of dietary powders. The result was the EarthBottle, the first container created with EarthMatter technology. Gaia became an early adopter of the EarthBottle and remains a continued supporter.
EarthBottles are made with a base of polylactic acid (PLA), derived from the fermentation of plant sugars. Earth Renewable Technologies adds a proprietary blend of components from plants and minerals to improve the functionality of existing PLAs. EarthBottles are designed to offer a lower carbon footprint than the production of conventional plastics and without using fossil fuel ingredients or toxic plasticizers.
In 2008, Gaia launched ChiaFresh Daily Fiber in a custom dark green EarthBottle canister. It was the first batch of EarthBottles to reach store shelves. Earth Renewable Technologies kept refining EarthMatter to improve its barrier properties and versatility. Meanwhile, Gaia launched more dietary powders, each packaged in the newest iteration of EarthBottle.
This March, at the 2015 Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., Earth Renewable Technologies publicly announced the commercialization of EarthBottle, as Gaia Herbs unveiled a new line of TurmericBoost powders packaged in the containers.
Nanny Meal, a complete nutritional powder for kids that is free of most common allergens, also announced it would package its products exclusively in EarthBottle canisters.
“Green packaging is the wisest choice for containers and for the environment,” says Dr. Donna Acree, the naturopathic physician who created the product. “Nanny Meal is so happy to be a part of history in the making.”
Potential uses for EarthBottle include pharmaceuticals and personal care products such as dietary powders, supplement capsules, tablets, shampoos, cold-fill liquids and other non-beverage products.
The research team at Earth Renewable Technologies knows there is no quick fix when it comes to sustainability. It has taken a long-term approach when considering the life of its technologies, carefully choosing the raw materials, production processes and options of use for its products to support potential regeneration and ensure responsible use of natural resources. For brands concerned with meeting demands of end-users, the best part might be that this environmentally conscious packaging could come at a comparable cost.
“More than ever before, consumers are seeking products that reflect a comprehensive consciousness to the environment, which includes the vessel it’s packaged in,” says Owen Schultz, Earth Renewable Technologies’ vice president of business development.
Now that the technology is catching on, Gaia’s Scalzo awaits the next steps.
“We have the knowledge now,” says Scalzo. “We’ve discovered something innovative. How can we not bring about change?”