PLASTICS have been a roadblock to what industries call “the circular economy”, describing the responsible disposal and repurposing of post-consumer industrial waste. But plastics, which have been widely used in the retail foodservice industry, are not biodegradable and end up in landfill.
For 15 years, Gary Smith of Sydney, CEO of Australian packaging development company BioPak, has been on a mission to substitute plastics in the fast-food and grocery space. But he is aware of early efforts at paper and plant-based materials that were not viable replacements for plastics, resulting in soggy food packs or cutlery, or sloppy coffee cups with clumsy lids.
After much R&D, BioPak has developed a wide range of sturdy foodservice containers from materials such as sugarcane pulp – producing different types, with linings designed for immediate consumption (fast foods and beverages) or for home storage.
South African-born Smith left school in 1987 to become an entrepreneur, later starting up a series of IT businesses. In 2001, he founded an IT business in Sydney, before establishing Bondi Junction-based BioPak 15 years ago. His company’s sustainable innovations include cutlery, napkins, coffee cups and sushi trays.
A congregant at Chabad Dover Heights and Chabad Double Bay, he has helped the Dover Heights shule to compost its waste and achieve a zero-landfill target.
BioPak has perfected non-plastic substitutes, including a pulp-based lid for takeaway coffees that has a secure lip, like polystyrene lids, that snaps tightly over the cup to prevent spills. Special compression makes the lids taste-neutral, after consumers detected an unwelcome taste from earlier alternatives.
BioPak’s pulp-based foodservice packs are manufactured to industry-wide sustainability standards from the Forest Stewardship Council and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, which require manufacturers to adhere to a “chain of custody” from factory to store shelf and post-use composting. BioPak is also certified ‘B-Corp’, a corporate standard recognising a company’s dedication to sustainability through its governance and transparency, and its environmental and social impact.
Smith was heartened at news last year that BioPak was recognised in the Australasian Packaging Innovation & Design Awards. The company this year became the first Australian developer to snare a prestigious gold Sustainability Special Award at the 2023 WorldStar Packaging Awards in Dusseldorf, Germany. The recognition was specifically for its sugarcane-based hot and cold beverage cup lids.
Ever since he and business partner Richard Fine began BioPak, the aim, said Smith, has been “to convert a fossil economy to a plant-based economy”.