The Bumble Bee Seafood Company is diving in headfirst to tackle circular packaging strategies in new ways — and some old ways.
When it comes to managing its global footprint, the key for The Bumble Bee
Seafood Company has been understanding where it can have the most impact and
developing scalable processes that will have long-lasting, positive effects on
And while materials innovations and recycling are important parts of the
picture, one important solution is maintaining a can-do attitude toward classic
Trusting the tried and true
This tried-and-true steel can is one of the few truly closed-loop
materials in circulation today. Canned seafood has been a Bumble Bee staple
since 1889; and it has yet to show a downside, either economically or
environmentally. It’s stackable and durable — which makes the journey from
packaging plants to grocery aisles efficient. Solutions such as the steel can
are rare, because they carry embedded advantages every step of the way. Recycled
steel requires less energy to turn back into new cans than that of virgin steel,
so its reuse is beneficial from an environmental and financial standpoint.
Approaching the plastics predicament
While Bumble Bee Seafood has reduced its plastic packaging to under 4 percent of
total materials used — with a goal of using less than 2 percent by 2025 — many
business models have been built on the single-use, low-cost and
ultra-lightweight shipping conveniences of plastics. And while part of the
solution to closing the loop on ocean plastic
certainly depends on companies packaging their products with materials that are
easier to recycle and more valuable on the secondary market, the most critical
step is to invest in recycling infrastructure — especially in rapidly developing
economies such as Indonesia, where Bumble Bee sources much of its seafood.
Creating community-based solutions
Indonesia has a fast-growing population and economy; but — along with China,
the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand — its waste-management systems
haven’t been keeping pace. Today only 39 percent of total plastic waste is
collected in Indonesia, which is why Bumble Bee’s
ANOVA brand is piloting a local recycling program.
Indonesian coastal communities with crystal clear water, such as Maluku,
help Bumble Bee meet its fishing goals, but are also littered with ocean
plastics. All tuna bought in the Maluku region are fished with one line, one
fisherman and one hook — avoiding the use of nets to reduce the chance of ghost
However, even with sustainable fishing
ocean currents route the world’s plastics to these same waters. This is why
ANOVA is developing a program to capture, process and reuse these ocean plastics
through its existing infrastructure.
But building a circular economy is impossible without public awareness and
participation. That’s why ANOVA’s locally led waste-management pilot program
aims to educate, enable and financially motivate villagers to collect high-yield
plastics and exchange them for profit. ANOVA will own the recycling centers that
buy the plastic back from the community. Each center will be located adjacent to
existing fish-processing plants, where HDPE and
plastics can be ground into chips or bricks using Precious
Plastic’s DIY plastic-processing
machines. These machines are constructed in-house using the Dutch company’s
open-source blueprints, and are undergoing R&D at their testing facility in
Recycling, repurposing and creating new products
To date, ANOVA has created molds to prototype cutting boards with 100 percent
recycled plastic, which can be shipped along its existing supply chain routes to
retailers at no added financial cost. Such recycled products serve a dual
purpose in demonstrating the circular economy at work and recouping costs
incurred from hosting the various recycling centers. Other use cases currently
being tested can be used locally — such as tables, chairs or coolers for the
Not all plastics received will be suitable for such production, so excess PET
(ex: a plastic soda bottle) can be sold in nearby Surabaya for further
processing, riding the same existing supply chain routes to make the trip.
Building awareness, empowering communities
The goal for this system is to operate as a closed loop, successfully diverting
ocean plastics from the waters. Each facet of the operation is sustainable, with
excess plastic profit fed back into collection incentives and community
education programs. Not only does this build awareness in these communities, it
also empowers community members to gain social equity through their involvement.
Whether that equity comes through financial gains or social status remains to be
As this program builds out, ANOVA aims to operate this plastic collection
program in 25 fair-trade fishing communities in Indonesia. The first
self-sustaining operation will be in Waprea — where they will build a model
and gauge community perception to scale further, once proven. All of these
efforts fall under the Healthy Oceans program at The Bumble Bee Seafood Company.
The collection programs starting today are a key example of using existing
business operations to help close the recycling infrastructure gap in emerging
communities such as Indonesia.
While The Bumble Bee Seafood Company is committed to pursuing feasible recycling
options through its packaging and systems management in Indonesia, the company
knows that collective action is vital to successfully tackling the plastics
waste challenge — which is why it also encourages its consumers, business
partners and employees to do their part. Carefully reading product labels and
learning about local programs to find the best way to properly dispose of
plastics is something we all can do — for the betterment of the health of our
oceans and all who rely on them.