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A sustainable alternative to plastic

Anaita Sarkar and Vikram Davé. Image Credit: Hero Packaging

Hero Packaging: A sustainable alternative to plastic packaging

Sydney-based Hero Packaging is quickly becoming a game-changer for online retailers by helping them eliminate plastic from the shipping process and achieve sustainability, one mailer at a time.

Sustainability is becoming increasingly crucial for all businesses, regardless of their size, location or industry. Many corporations worldwide have made substantial commitments to sustainability, with the aim to address the fundamental issues. 

The husband-and-wife duo, Anaita Sarkar and Vikram Davé, started Hero Packaging to eliminate plastic from packaging and shipping in Australia and around the world. They spoke with Dynamic Business about their business experience and motivation.

Early days

Hero Packaging set out on a path to sustainability in 2018, becoming Australia’s first domestic and certified retail compostable company.   

“I had a business before Hero Packaging where I was selling handbags and accessories,”  Anaita Sarkar said “That business was growing, and we were sending out a lot of packages, which were using a lot of plastic.”.  

“We knew there had to be another way to package items without plastic, so we looked for an Australian eco-friendly shipping solution.” 

“About 90 per cent of plastics and food scraps end up in landfills, and in that environment, they turn into methane which is a deadly enemy of our planet,” Davé said. 

“So, we decided to specialise in mailers that were 100 per cent home compostable, but also made from such materials that if they ended up in landfill, they would still break down with no waste. That’s how our business started. 

“In 2020, with the online boom, we saw a huge growth in our business – we’re now a seven-figure business.

“We primarily service Australia, but we’re increasing our reach into an international customer base in the US, Canada and Europe. 

“More importantly, we’ve saved over six million plastic mailers from entering the planet,” Davé said.

Recycling vs Plastic alternative

The most difficult challenge for the duo was to create a durable, strong, and biodegradable material.

Image Credit: Jon Tyson

Mr Davé believes that recycling isn’t the permanent solution, and the abundant use of single-use and low-grade plastics have made recycling less feasible.

“With recycled PET and the marketing around that, there’s a lot of ‘greenwashing’ that happens because there is a plastics industry that needs to survive,” he said. 

“We think that by supporting the market for recycled plastics, you’re also supporting the initial creation of virgin plastics and giving the plastics industry a justification for continuing because plastic can be recycled.” 

“Local governments have been increasingly banning the use of single-use plastics, and many industries are increasingly moving towards reusable plastics,” Mr Davé said.

“In addition, online retail is growing at such a fast pace, even more so after the emergence of COVID-19. But you don’t see the full impact of all these plastic packages in front of you. 

“It is an environmental impact that’s happening in the background – it’s such a big, underlying problem that needs to be addressed.  

“With small businesses, sustainability is a complex issue – it’s something that they do want to do, but many of them don’t know how to do it. 

“So, what we’re trying to do, with the creation of our products, is simplify it for them. It’s a simple step that they have to take to make their business more sustainable, and it’s an option that isn’t plastic,” he said. 

“We looked but came up empty-handed because we only managed to find paper mailers which weren’t waterproof and cardboard boxes which weren’t the right solution for us. 

After testing many different materials, they found one that was not just compostable but also waterproof, super durable and acted like plastic in the shipping process, but would break down in a compostable environment.

“We have our non-padded home compostable shipping mailers, Heropack, and also a padded compostable solution, Herobubble. 

“They’re [the material] made of a mixture of two things – primarily polylactic acid, which is essentially cornstarch – that’s the renewable component – and a synthetic, certified compostable substance called perivascular adipose tissue,” Anaita said.

“Those two products mixed together create the certified home compostable material, which is then converted into shipping mailers.”

“For consumers and businesses, they need to realise that whilst recycled plastic is good for the environment and that they’re repurposing plastic into something else, they’ve got to look at the end of life of anything that comes into the market,” Anaita said.

“And the end of life for recycled plastic is in landfill and into the ocean. Even if it goes into Recycling, only nine per cent of those are going to get recycled, and then again, only nine per cent of those get recycled.

“By the end of it, almost all of these recycled plastics end up polluting our planet and remain there for hundreds of years. With compostable materials, they do fully break down.” 

“Packaging used to be just an afterthought because all there was in the market was plastic, but now it’s one of the first few things that companies think of to drive their business’s sustainability,” she said.

Killing the competition

With over 23,000 customers, their bigger clients include Cue, Veronica Maine, Beginning Boutique, Apero Label, Ripcurl, ZaneRobe, Lush Cosmetics, Piping Hot, Moana Bikini and Wests Tigers.

Hero Packaging’s year-on-year growth is currently sitting at 212 per cent, and another 122 per cent growth is forecasted for 2022, according to the company. 

“We’ve got the biggest range of compostable mailers – possibly in the world at this point. We’ve offered coloured mailers from the beginning, and we keep on adding new colours,” Anaita said.

“We’re also keeping an eye on what’s happening in the market so that we can create new, sustainable products that are in demand.

“We’re a fast-growing business, and that’s just because of our range and the fact that our brand is fun. We also try to make packaging on-brand.

“We have two parts to our business – in addition to the home compostable shipping mailers, we also have national and international retailers that come to us to get their branding on compostable mailers. 

“In terms of off the shelf mailers, our customers vary from small businesses – about 80 to 85 per cent – all the way to large online retailers. 

“We also have customers in the customs area – we consider ourselves the colour experts of compostable packaging. 

“So, if brands want that extra bright colour or more than one colour on the mailers, we can create that.”  

The big picture

Every year, Australia generates 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste, with 84 per cent of it ending up in landfills. 

Plastic waste spills into the environment in the amount of 130,000 tonnes each year.  Single-use plastic accounts for one million tonnes of Australia’s annual plastic use. 

The Australian government has previously stated that “single-use plastics” will be phased out by the end of 2025, with the use of expanded polystyrene food containers banned by December 2022. 

Via: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 

Many emerging technologies and up-and-coming startups are developing innovative packaging solutions.   

Wallaby Water, for instance, is an Australian startup that takes advantage of aluminium’s higher recycling rates to provide drinking water in a can.   

Because aluminium does not decay when recycled, it is possible for companies to recycle and reuse drinking water packaging.   

When compared to plastic water bottles, Wallaby’s water cans have a longer shelf life and are also easier to transport.

Way ahead

Many businesses and entrepreneurs have begun to see the problem and have started to expand their coverage.

For Hero Packaging, the duo wants to concentrate on growing the business, offering new items, and expanding worldwide.   

“There are two things we want to focus on – one is growing the business, introducing new products and launching internationally. We’re at the start of our business journey and want to grow it enormously,” Ms Sarkar said.

“Without having to give too much away, we’re looking to bring any products related to e-commerce into our compostable range.

“We want to make sure that the entire e-Commerce process is plastics free, which includes labels, sleeves and even consumer-style packaging. 

“On the other side of it is the education around composability and being sustainable in business. 

“We’re trying to build a communication and education network amongst our business leaders that use Hero Packaging and educate them on how to compost the right way and then how they can educate their consumers on how to use the packaging once they receive it.” 

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