Business uses palm for eco-friendly containers





Vancouver's Shannon Boase shows off her Earthcycle packaging, constructed of palm fibre.


When Shannon Boase returned to Vancouver after 14 years in Asia, she took her years of business experience, and a new passion for conservation, and created a company that offers eco-friendly alternatives to conventional packaging.

“There is just so much waste in our packaging system,” said Boase, 41, who was introduced to the concept of all-natural, biodegradable produce containers while working for the Malaysian government.

Boase had been hired to help find a practical use for the husk of palm fruits (used in the palm oil industry), which plantation owners were simply burning. Not only was it wasteful, but the smoke was wreaking havoc on the environment.

When Boase returned to Canada she was initially uncertain as to what direction to focus her energies.

“I couldn’t imagine working for someone,” she said. “Then I looked back, and this project was still very much on my mind. I loved working on it, and the environmental aspect of it. I’ve set up companies before, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do this myself?’”

In 2004 Boase started Earthcycle, which manufactures and distributes palm fibre packaging for produce and take-out containers. Over two years later, with her product in stores like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, her vision is finally yielding fruit.

She calls it a smart, intuitive use of a waste product.

“It jives with how I want to protect and live in this world,” says Boase, who grew up in North Vancouver, and has a degree in business administration from Simon Fraser University as well as an MBA in technology and innovation from the Theseus Institute in France.

“How we look at the packaging market is that it doesn’t stop once it gets home. We as consumers have to start thinking of packaging as completing a loop. What happens to it when it gets thrown away? If it’s plastic, most likely it goes to landfills and it stays there,” she said. “One palm tree gives fruit between two and three times a year. So it’s more than an annually renewable resource.”

Opaque in appearance and with a consistency Boase likens to an egg carton, her palm fiber products are “durable, strong and attractive.”

Primarily sold in the United States at the moment, Boase says her products will soon be available in local stores.

“I think Canadians are very interested in it.” But, she added, “it takes time for retailers and growers to adopt change.”