Aluminium is the most common metal and makes up 8% of the Earth’s mass. Not surprising then that whether as yogurt lids, drink cans, tetra-pack coatings or chocolate packaging – aluminium can be found everywhere in food, where it’s proved for many decades to be a quick and easy method of preservation. It’s also popular for wrapping food, grilling, or baking at home.
The metal can be reused and recycled. However, sustainability-minded German/Ghanaian brand Fairafric, the first organic chocolate bar that is made and packed in Ghana, claims aluminium foil is worse for the environment than plastic wrap. It has chosen an alternative – a biodegradable solution made from wood pulp – and has called on other companies to do the same.
“We were looking for an alternative to aluminium foil because of its bad environmental impact,” Fairafric founder Hendrik Reimers explained to FoodNavigator. “Aluminium is extracted from ore bauxite and trees, and during the process plants and vegetation is destroyed.”
The mined bauxite, he added, is mixed with a corrosive soda solution and heated to dissolve the aluminium components from the rest. The resulting toxic waste -- so-called red mud -- should be disposed of in special landfills, but often spills into rivers and lakes, where it can destroy entire ecosystems.
“Another reason was the high energy consumption during the aluminium extraction and the low recycling rates of all different kinds of aluminium products,” Reimers added.
The German public broadcaster ARD has reported that the production of one tonne of aluminium requires an average of 15,000 kWh of electricity: the same amount of electricity consumed by a two-person household over five years. Fairafric claims that in order to have enough electricity available, new power plants or dams are often built near the production site, which again destroys eco-systems.
Meanwhile, while aluminium is almost 100% recyclable, in practice this is not happening. Sometimes the different metal mixtures in a foil cannot all be recycled together. Often consumers are unaware of what can and can’t be recycled.
Therefore, the company switched to the so-called NatureFlex film. This is a compostable film made of wood pulp produced by the Japanese company Futamura. The raw material for the film, the wood fibre, comes from sustainable, certified forestry and the film decomposes in about 50 days.
“This material comes originally from plants and is compostable,” Reimers told us. “It is not only biodegradable, it is also made from renewable resources and can even be disposed of in domestic compost. The manufacturing process for the film is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. We will keep our eyes and ears open in search of even better packaging solutions. We are very happy with the new packaging as it protects our bars from moisture, prevents fat from escaping, and preserves the flavor."
Sales manager Julia Gause added: “The film is excellently suited for the food industry. It protects our bars from moisture, prevents fat from escaping, which is often a problem with chocolate and paper packaging, and preserves the flavor.”
The company claims that making organic chocolate in the West African country generates five times higher income for producers than sourcing cocoa alone. Earlier this year, the company unveiled a solar-powered organic chocolate production in the Suhum region in Ghana, where it’s the region’s largest employer. It has also opened the first official chocolaterie school in Ghana to help create new training and jobs outside of agriculture, as well as new products. “In the future, there will be more delicacies made from local organic ingredients as well as the finest chocolate creations,” it said.