Zespri biospife

Figure 1 The biospife developed by Zepsri.

Zespri International Limited is the world’s largest marketer of kiwifruit. It is owned by Aotearoa New Zealand kiwifruit growers and sells premium kiwifruit into more than 50 countries, managing around 30% of the global volume. Kiwifruit makes up just a fraction of globally-traded fruit so making it easy for consumers to cut, scoop and eat the fruit is a key part of growing demand for kiwifruit around the world. To help achieve this, Zespri released a spife, a spoon-knife utensil, made out of polystyrene (#6) plastic, in the 1990s.

Around 2010, the debate about ‘food miles’ prompted Zespri to assess the carbon footprint of transporting kiwifruit to the European market. At the same time, European customers, initially those purchasing organically-grown kiwifruit, were expressing concern about the plastic in the spife and the inability to dispose of it in a more environmentally-friendly manner.

Zespri recognised that changing consumer expectations, along with rising concern about climate change and non-renewable resource use, were likely to lead to increased regulations in the global market. Analysis showed the plastic spife contributed to ~3% of Zespri’s total carbon footprint. In addition, the industry produced waste biomass (low-grade fruit) each season. There was clearly an opportunity to improve the sustainability of the business and build added brand value.

Zespri partnered with Scion along with Alto Packaging Limited to develop and manufacture spifes made from bioplastics and residual kiwifruit waste. Its design was guided by industrial composting standards and it is considered one of the first successful initiatives showcasing product development aligned to the principles of the circular economy.

While there are ongoing challenges with the availability of industrially composting facilities, a reusable and industrially-compostable spife continues to meet with favourable consumer sentiment. As investment in more advanced waste infrastructure expands offshore, Zespri is well placed to capitalise on this.

Zespri has some insights for other exporters on successfully navigating future regulatory trends to guide business decisions and innovate to meet these needs. These include:

  • Invest in understanding future trends
  • Measure the environmental impacts of your business and your products
  • Understand consumer sentiment in your markets
  • Develop long-term partnerships to support innovation
  • Collaborate with scientists, technical experts and companies in the value chain
  • Be patient – it takes time to bring concepts to commercial reality
  • Show leadership – while the solution may not be perfect, each step shifts a complex system towards the goal (in case this, a circular economy solution)
  • Persevere with blockages in the value chain (read the Case Study)

Further complexity is likely to come from the potential divergence of countries that import Aotearoa New Zealand products into two camps – those that have strict regulations on imported plastics and packaging and those that do not. Collaboration between companies to develop solutions to meet the needs of various jurisdictions may prove crucial for exporters to stay ahead of non-tariff barriers and meet consumer needs.

Explore more case studies from Rethinking Plastics

Sustainability through connection, learning and action

With a kaupapa of creating a healthy, peaceful, more sustainable world, Toimata Foundation supports inter-generational learning and action by running two main programmes in schools and communities:…

Reducing the carbon footprint of plastics by using recycled plastic

In a study of the carbon footprint of projected global plastic use between 2015 and 2050, Zheng and Suh modelled a theoretical situation of 100% recycling of plastic in 2050, and found it had a 25%…

A reusable system to replace single-use cups

Globelet offers a reusable cup system for festivals and other events. The cups are made from recycled polypropylene (#5) and manufactured onshore. Globelet provides the following statistics on their…

How big is the plastic clothing problem for Aotearoa New Zealand?

Some plastic articles of clothing are captured in the ‘Plastics and articles thereof’ harmonised trade codes in import data from Statistics NZ, but this does not account for all synthetic fibres im…

A business enabling people to rethink their use of plastic

Ecostore is an exemplar of how a business can take transformative action to rethink how we use plastics and inspire system-wide change. To enable people to reduce their use of non-renewable single-…

New Zealand Post’s quest for an alternative to plastic

The driver: New Zealand Post wants a more sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to their existing plastic mailers (e.g. courier bags, pre-paid postage bags). New Zealand Post has also…

Para Kore – helping people reduce their waste

Para Kore is a Māori organisation that provides mentoring and support for marae, kōhanga reo, kura, community organisations, iwi, tertiary, commercial sector, events and Māori communities to reduce…

Plastic Bag Free Raglan, Pēke Kirihou Kore Whāingaroa

In October 2018, Whāingaroa Raglan won the Keep New Zealand Beautiful ‘Community Environmental Initiative Award’. The kōrero behind the Award was a story of what happened when a whole community wor…

Controlled plastic decomposition

Plastics are made by joining monomers together to form long flexible chains in a process known as polymerisation. The strength of the bonds formed between monomers is what makes the plastics persis…

Recyclable shoes

As part of its recent pledge to use only recycled plastics by 2024, Adidas revealed a new sneaker made from 100% recyclable materials. Driven by a connection to environmental organisation Parley for…