west~bourne’s Incredibly Sustainable Packaging Can Be Carried From Your Kitchen To Compost Bin, No Questions Asked
by Chloe Gordon on 12/08/2021 | 4 Minute Read
While we talk about sustainable packaging design often, it's rare that a brand's packaging is so sustainable that it makes us do a double-take.
West~bourne, however, has done just that, with their packaging that's 100% compostable and made from entirely plant-based materials. Not only that, but some of the food packaging looks and feels like plastic, with the rare twist that they can be taken right from your kitchen to your compost bin.
Camilla Marcus, the founder of west~bourne, first created a zero-waste restaurant of the same name in Manhattan. Because of COVID, however, she had to pivot, developing a line of zero waste, feel-good provisions featuring everything from a savory umami snack mix inTogarashi Crunch to Pistachio Dukkah.
The line of snacks and staples is plant-based and 100% zero waste from production to packaging, acting as a natural expansion from the restaurant. With branding and design by FÖDA each of the provisions is packaged in recyclable (or reusable) materials and is 100% compostable. Furthermore, the foods get packaged in first-of-their-kind plant-based bags, and all printed materials are produced on seed paper with soy-based ink.
We spoke with Camilla Marcus about the design and process of creating the brand's sustainable and watercolor-inspired packaging.
What was the thought process behind the design?
Simultaneously unfussy and charming, we chose watercolor as a technique for its simplicity and accessibility, in that almost anyone can do it. Layers of translucent washes of abstract color fields morph into landscapes of oceans, rivers, mountains, creek beds, and plains that echo our brand’s heritage rooted in the wild terroir of California and the natural nourishing food itself.
Similarly, we chose typefaces for their humility and legibility. Zenith was designed by Matthieu Cortat in 2020 after a specimen of Zeno first done in 1936 by Charles Malin for the German-Italian publisher Mardersteig. The foundry describes it like a marathon runner with skin tightly stretched over lean, jittery muscle designed to read while gradually revealing a personality. In short, it's striking on a shelf for all the things it isn't.
We supported Zenith with the ultra utilitarian classic Trade Gothic, designed in 1948 by Jackson Burke, cleaned up in 2009 by Akira Kobayashi and Tom Grace. It's an old workhorse with a little more personality than traditional European sans serifs from that era.
What materials did you use to make the compostable packaging?
We use non-toxic and reclosable vegan pouches made with sustainably-sourced wood cellulose without harmful chemicals that can get composted to enrich the soil. Our labels are similarly compostable made from tree-free unbleached sugarcane paper.
Was the process of sourcing compostable packaging challenging?
The process was and continues to be an immersive trek. This technology and these products are all emerging and in constant evolution. Plus, our nation has not yet synchronized composting systems to be streamlined and reliable across communities. Further, sustainable packaging is limited in options currently produced by very few suppliers. It's also far more expensive than traditional plastics. We call it a constant work in progress—but a journey we are growing with, learning from, and iterating as we go.
Can you explain the most significant challenges you bumped into when designing your packaging system?
There are very few options for reliable, food-safe compostable packaging, and the current technology, of course, functions quite differently than other standard materials. Therefore, you have to be willing to do research and development to ensure your food can be transported and sustained in these alternative vessels.
Also, we have so much to share with our community about who we are, what we believe in, and our zero waste, carbon neutral mission. That’s tremendously tricky to accomplish and relay in a small label space, particularly once you’ve incorporated all of the legally required text. It became an intricate game of Jenga.
What advice would you give to brands that want to move towards more sustainable packaging but don't know where to start?
Let yourself question everything, and then just do it. Start somewhere—big or small. It doesn’t matter. The search and discovery process gets addicting. It can be taking one element of your packaging and doing the work and research to transform it. There are resources out there to improve every step of the chain, but it takes commitment and time. For example, you could commit to using recycled and repurposed cardboard boxes—that’s something that everyone can start to do today, which can help curb your carbon footprint. You also have to accept that the whole system won’t be perfect because this is a nascent industry that’s not yet incentivized or supported at the federal level, similar to other competing industries (such as plastics).
What is your vision of the future regarding sustainable packaging?
We hope that sustainable packaging becomes the norm—no longer up for debate—while being accessible, affordable, and systematically supported with the proper infrastructure (such as nationwide composting systems and standards). We have a long way to go, but we are committed to doing what we can to move forward.