Jars and Labels and Lids. Oh My!

Packaging turns out is a loaded topic.  So much so that sharing some of the things that we have learned in a process that is far from over will come to this blog in a few parts.  
Packaging is something we have talked about for years, on a theoretical level long before we had a product. I have not wanted to create a product that throws more garbage out into our world. In other words we have put all kinds of parameters around what will work for us in balancing our sense of design and a pleasing shelf look and our commitment to the environment.

Ten years ago that would have meant a glass jar. Easy to recycle we would have assumed end of story. It is true what they say - ignorance is bliss. Now we know that is not so simple.   Sand, soda ash, limestone, a bit of dolomite and feldspar is combined and baked in a furnace at temps over 2730 degrees F.   All this heat demands a phenomenal amount of energy and makes what we have coined now as a big ‘ol carbon footprint.   These days just about all glass jars come from China, so the footprint does not end there. The jars, thin walled but still heavy, have to be transported via trains, ships, and trucks to get to Applegate.  Once the jars have held our product, been thoroughly enjoyed by our customers, and ended up in the recycling bin it gets complicated again.  Though glass is inert in the landfill, it still shouldn’t be there especially since glass can be recycled indefinitely as its structure does not deteriorate.  Still it often isn’t recycled.  Jackson County does not actually have a place to sell all the glass, mostly due to the cost of transporting to the nearest plant.  So the glass gets ground into our roads, or worse tossed in the landfill anyway.  All  this makes the eco-choice confusing.  

The answer seemed simple at first a sturdy glass jar that has a deposit to encourage take back and reuse.

When I was a child visiting my grandmother in Germany returning bottles from beverages such as water, soda and beer was the standard practice.  These bottles were thick and not recycled like the 5 cent deposit beverage container are here, but industrially washed and reused.  Here we are now seeing the re-birth of deposits on milk bottles for some organic milks.  I have read that a milk bottle makes an average of anywhere between 8 and 17 treks from dairy to consumer and back.   I am not sure what the practice is in Europe now, but I know that as bottling plants became larger and decreased in numbers bottles had to be transported further for refilling, which removed the financial advantage for refilling.  Even factoring the extra weight requirement for the glass to withstand the wear and tear and cleaning costs they are still the best option when recovered and reused.  Consumers also preferred the convenience of non-returnable bottles.

My assumption is consumer convenience is a huge player and is why we don’t see more re-used beverage bottles.  Christopher and I both remember the light green Coca Cola bottles, that were thick with a sand blasted looking ring from rattling around with each other.  I tried to figure out when they where discontinued.  I only found some advertising in 1970 by Coca Cola encouraging the re-useable bottles.  They advertised it as the bottle for the Age of Ecology “What the world needs today are containers that recycle… So buy Coca-Cola in returnable bottles. It’s best for the environment and your best value.”  That was 41 years ago.  I wonder how many bottles would have been saved?

Right now our kraut is sold in canning jars, with a shipping label that doesn’t affix nicely to the texture of the mason jars.  We have chosen canning jars for the time being as they are made in the US.  Most wholesale jars that we have found are made in China.  Mason jars are reusable and they harken of home and hearth.  Our hope is that they will get used again, either returned to us, or canning someone’s home grown harvest.  Unfortunately from the dozens of North American mason jar producers that used to be making jars we in this country are down to one, and the last few years the jars have gotten thinner.  They don’t have the weight and permanence they used to.  They meet the minimum requirements for pressure canning but this does not factor in permanence.  I have some that get used every year and must be 50 or more years old.  So if you are a food preserver hold onto those old jars.

With the canning jars comes a two part metal lid.  This gets a bit cumbersome when hand packing 80 jars in one afternoon, but do-able.  The life span of the metal is short with the acidity of the fermented foods.  To combat throwing away the metal flat lid we found a reusable, BPA-free, made in the USA Tattler canning lid.  We bought 500 and started using them.  Now we are up to a three part lid (remember those in the packaging department) and worse we discovered that it takes a bit of finesse to get the little rubber gasket to land in place once the jar has been opened.  A ring hanging in the the kraut is not pleasing.  On the business side these add to the cost without any attractive functional benefits.   

Our search for a sturdy reusable container continues we will share what we have learned from the ceramic kilns of China and the glass works of Italy.