A compostable take-away container made in Blenheim from waste potato starch has won the 2011 NZ Unpackit Award for best packaging.

The Unpackit Worst Packaging Award for the worst packaging sold in New Zealand stores has been won by Sunsweet Ones, individually wrapped prunes imported from America.

The awards were decided by nearly 9,000 public votes. The winners were chosen from a shortlist of eight examples of the best packaging in New Zealand, and a shortlist of eight examples of the worst.

Unpackit spokesperson Sophie Ward said Potatopak is at the forefront of a new way of thinking about packaging.

The company is turning a waste stream, potato starch, into a valuable product. At the end of its life, the Potatopak container provides nutrients back into soil, or can be fed to fish, birds or worms. It’s a winner whichever way you look at it.”

Potatopak is made from starch which collects in water when potato chips are cut up.

When asked how he felt about winning the award, owner Richard Williams replied “It’s wonderful, awesome. I’m just rapt.”

He said he had strong competition from the other finalists in the Best Award, but thought that his sustainable manufacturing process had given him an edge.

“The whole concept of using waste to create an alternative product which doesn’t go into the landfill is hard to beat.”

Mr Williams said his company has been working with scientists from Plant & Food Research in Lincoln for the last five years to produce a food-grade, 100% compostable coating for Potatopak which will make it suitable for meat and hot/wet foods. The products will then be microwaveable and be able to hold coffee. He expected the product would be ready to launch at the end of the year.

Ms Ward said Potatopak meat trays could solve a big packaging problem in New Zealand.

“Currently meat from supermarkets is sold on polystyrene meat-trays which can’t be recycled because they’re contaminated with blood, so a huge number end up in rubbish bins every week. A meat-tray made out of compostable potato starch could reduce that waste stream.”

Runner-up in the Best Packaging Awards was a swap-a-crate from Speight’s, and third place went to the humble egg-carton.

Ms Ward said the both the swap-a-crate and egg-carton had been around for yonks, and showed that good packaging didn’t need to be ground-breaking or expensive

She said the eight finalists in the Best Packaging Awards showed that many small to medium sized New Zealand businesses are passionate about sourcing minimal, recyclable or compostable packaging which reflects their commitment to looking after the environment.

On the other side of the coin, Ms Ward said big multi-national companies who are pumping out “convenience” foods such as single-serve snacks were well-represented in the Worst shortlist.

“We also had a couple of examples of the ubiquitous blister pack used for small consumer items; Brother Ink Cartridges and Oral B Toothbrush Heads. Not only are they impossible to get into, they’re not labelled for proper recycling either – just a bad design all round.”

Ms Ward said her favorite story about blister packs came from a man she met recently who’d bought a pair of scissors in a blister pack. “He didn’t have any scissors, that’s why he bought a new pair, but without scissors, he couldn’t get into the blister pack!”

Ms Ward said the competition for the Worst Packaging Award had been close, but it was a well-deserved win by Sunsweet’s individually wrapped prunes.

“Without exception, every single person I have talked to on the Unpackit Roadshow of Joy’s travels around the country has been amazed that something so ridiculous exists.

“Ken Garmonsway who imports Sunsweet Ones into the country, claims they are individually wrapped so people can take them with them without getting in a sticky mess.

“Come on. I can’t see there being a great number of pocket prune-carriers out there. It’s great if people want a healthy snack, but I’d encourage them to make it healthy for the environment too by taking a few unwrapped prunes in washable container. Individually wrapped prunes are one of the all-time examples of excessive, unnecessary packaging”

Sunsweet Ones are not part of the Sunsweet range sold in the UK. Ms Ward said there was no good reason they should not be taken out of the Sunweet range available on our shelves.

The Unpackit team have written to all the finalists on the Worst shortlist to explain why their packaging had been shortlisted, and offered to talk to them about how to improve their packaging.

“I know Sealord has said publicly since the shortlist was announced that they are looking to improve their packaging, and we really welcome their positivity. We don’t want to get down on these companies, we just want to show them that the public does notice and care about packaging, and encourage them to do better,” said Ms Ward.

Official awards will be presented to the winners of both awards later this month.

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