Unilever and PepsiCo have goals to design 100% of packaging to be reusable, recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable by 2025. Companies like Zume – formerly a robotics pizza company – are trying to make the compostable transition easier for brands, brokers and distributors by creating packaging out of agricultural waste and other materials local to the companies that need them.
Zume is one of a growing list of companies dedicated to compostable packaging. The sustainable packaging industry is a $274.2 billion per year business that is expected to grow to $413.8 billion by 2027, according to Grand View Research. The packaging industry as a whole is about $900 billion, so Zume and its competitors have their work cut out for them.
Zume has re-commissioned its fleet of pizza-making robots to press and mold its slurry of agriculture waste into take-out containers, cosmetics containers and whatever else Zume or its partners can come up with.
Chairman and CEO of Zume, Alex Garden explained to CNBC, "Previously, machines could either make very low-quality things quickly. Some machines could make high-quality things very slowly. But they were so expensive that they would be outrageous for a consumer market. What our technology does that's so revolutionary is it can make very high-quality parts very fast."
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But only about 27% of the U.S. population has access to some kind of composting program that accepts either just food waste, or food waste and some forms of compostable packaging, so it's not a ubiquitous solution yet.
Rafael Auras, a professor at Michigan State University's School of Packaging, says, "The problem is that the waste management system is still at the state level. So we have 50 states with different types of goals. So we should try to get at least an aggregation of a state, or the government can actually pass legislation on where we have goals to move the whole country forward."
CNBC got an inside look at Zume's compostable packaging facility in Camarillo, CA to see its robots in action.
Watch CNBC's video exploring Zume and the compostable packaging industry.