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When Packaging Packs a Punch

Seth Goldman, founder and chief executive of Honest Tea at his Bethesda office. Honest Tea makes bottled organic tea using sustainable techniques.
Seth Goldman, founder and chief executive of Honest Tea at his Bethesda office. Honest Tea makes bottled organic tea using sustainable techniques. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Michael S. Rosenwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2007

At Honest Tea, the Bethesda organic-beverage company, sustainability is a way of life. Employees ride company-purchased bikes to work, where they hustle around atop bamboo floors and sit at desks that were purchased brand-spanking used.

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The product they sell -- organic iced tea, with a hint of sweetness -- grows in a rigorously sustainable garden in India. After the company brews the tea in the United States, the leaves are turned to mulch. Soon the leaves will also be fed to cows in Virginia.

"We feel very good about the life cycle of our ingredients," said Seth Goldman, the company's co-founder and chief executive.

And yet there is this not-so-little issue: the bottles.

"It's a big issue," Goldman said. "The packaging is a real thing. It's still flawed."

As more Americans go green, debates are fermenting over packaging: plastic vs. paper at the grocery store, plastic vs. glass for beverages. The packaging issue perplexes Goldman. So far, he is agnostic on the issue.

"I can see the merits of both," Goldman said. "If I didn't believe in one of the products, I wouldn't make it."

He and his company, which employs 60 people, live by the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle," and Goldman has studied how his products can fit into each of those efforts, traveling around the country to packaging conferences and product expos.

"If you can reduce your package, that's what you should do first," Goldman said.

That's where the plastic bottles come in. Made of PET plastic, which can be recycled only once -- or made into carpet or clothing -- the bottle's liquid weight is 512 grams while its package weight is 42.2 grams. That means 92.4 percent of the weight comes from the product.

"That's a very good ratio," Goldman said.

The total weight of Honest Tea's plastic bottle is seven times lighter than its glass bottle, meaning the company can fit more of the plastic product onto shipping trucks, which operate under stringent weight restrictions. About 2,100 cases of glass product can travel on a truck. That number jumps to nearly 2,700 for plastic.


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