Compostable vs Recyclable?

Which is better?

Rebecca and I were at a Packaging Forum (NZ) event yesterday and met some seriously interesting and well-informed people working in this space. When I explained our home compostable packaging to one such person she replied, “Do you know how many people actually home compost?” to which I replied, “Approx 35%”. She thinks it’s much lower. She said she’s been involved in numerous waste audits (read; her job has been to literally go through households’ rubbish) and she has never seen a home rubbish bin that did not contain food waste. Admittedly, I compost, but I do not put ALL my food waste in it. I live in a semi-rural area and frankly, just can’t afford to woo the rodent population. But her comments rattled us. But being rattled is good, it makes you continually question your assumptions and decisions.

True, even with composting growing and waste sharing facilitated by the likes of ShareWaste, not everyone will (in the short-to-medium term) have access to compost or perhaps even a garden in which they can bury their packaging. Almost everyone does by contrast have access to recycling. The problem is, the plastic that conventional courier bags/satchels/mailers are made out of is ‘soft’ and can’t be recycled by conventional means. However, soft plastics recycling is gaining traction. In NZ, 11% of soft plastics are now going into special soft plastics receptacles which is abso-blimmin-lutely fantastic, but it’s still not good enough. That means that 89% of soft plastics are ending up in our environment or landfill. Which bring us to the next question which is what happens to the 11% once they’ve been put in the recycling? Australia is able to recycle soft plastics but is struggling to cope with its own volumes, let alone NZ’s as well. And in general, the state of recycling is dire.

In late 2017, China announced that it would no longer accept 24 different recyclable materials and that quality standards for accepted materials would increase dramatically. Since then, the price for recyclable materials has plummeted (Source: Waste Management NZ) and in Australia and NZ the material is being stockpiled. Councils, businesses and communities are struggling to cope. Until solutions are found (and this will take time) we all need to not only reduce what we are sending to landfill, but also what we’re putting in the recycling bin. The ultimate solution is to switch to reusable containers, try to buy as little packaging as possible, and start composting if you can! Even cardboard boxes can be composted or used to keep the weeds at bay.

Ultimately at TBPCo. we feel that home composting is a better end-of-life solution for the type of products we’re making, at this point in time. That last part of that sentence is important – at this point in time. Things may change, hopefully for the better, and when they do, we’ll be happy to change too.

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