NOT PERFECT, BUT BETTER
We’re the first to admit that Compostable Packaging is not a perfect solution to the world’s plastic hangover, but done right, we think it is definitely a better one. In this post we’re going to address some of the key concerns people have regarding compostable alternatives to plastic.
Concern 1: Labelling
Unless labelling is obvious, it can be difficult to distinguish between compostable ‘plastic’ and ordinary plastic meaning they might end up contaminating each other’s recycling stream
Our Approach: All of our packaging has very clear instructions for disposal/end-of-life (legible without strong reading glasses)! It is worth noting, that responsible labelling is a challenge facing all packaging types, not just compostables and we support the work the Australian Packaging Covenant and PREP are doing to introduce a more comprehensive and comprehensible labelling system.
Concern 2 : End of life options
There are few commercial composters and even fewer are able to process packaging.
Our Approach: Our products don’t require commercial / industrial composting facilities to break down, instead people can deal with them in their own backyard composts. 95% of our packaging is HOME compostable and the remainder is pending certification.
We are also in the process of establishing a global network of collection points for certified compostable packaging. This means that even if you don’t have a compost at home, you will be able to take your used packaging (and potentially your food scraps too) somewhere nearby and have it turned into compost.
And again, this issue is not limited to compostables. The options for recycling plastics are extremely limited and no less challenging.
Concern 3: Feedstocks
The plants used to make bioplastics might otherwise be a food source for humans or animals, or the land they are grown on might have been used for the same … thus the bioplastics industry could be contributing to food scarcity and/or deforestation.
Our Approach: The cornstarch the goes into our packaging is processed from waste corn, corn that has been stockpiled for decades in case of famine, but which is now not suitable for human or animal consumption.
Concern 4: Sorting
It is very difficult to sort compostable plastics from non-compostable with current technology.
Our Approach: We make it super-clear on our packaging that they are not to be put in with ordinary recycling. On the back of these comPOST Packs (pictured) it very clearly states “I’m not for the recycling bin … Put me in with your food scraps and garden waste instead …”
Concern 5: Conditions
Home composts may not reach the conditions required to break down certified home compostable materials.
Our Approach: We’re don’t profess to be composting experts – our own composts are pretty low fi – but we do test all our packaging in them and they break down even quicker than they are certified to do. We also understand that at lower temperatures, the packaging may not breakdown as quickly as certified to, they will just take a little longer, but still a tiny fraction of the time it takes plastic to disintegrate into micro-plastics.
Concern 6: Greenwashing
Unfortunately, despite being such a new industry, it is already rife with misleading information and companies claiming compostability but not substantiating it. If in doubt assume ‘compostable’ means compostable only in a commercial or industrial facility.
Our Approach: We’ve taken it upon ourselves to help educate people as to the type of certifications available for compostability. We are proud to carry the AS5810 certification for home compostability which is the most stringent in the world. When you see the symbol AS5810 symbol like on our zip lock bag pictured here , as well as saying ‘Home Compostable, AS5180’ it must also be accompanied by an ABA number below. If not, then its fraudulent and unverified.
Concern 7: Circularity
Compostable packaging is only a circular solution if it is:
- Made from materials that would otherwise be landfilled
- If it assists other food waste being composted
- Is actually composted
- See Challenge 3 above – our feedstock is waste corn which is fit for no other purpose
- A key part of our mission is to highlight the amount of food waste going to landfill and the negative impact this is having. We also encourage people to start composting at home.
- For those who can’t, we are building a network of collection sites where people can drop off their used compostable packaging and potentially also food waste so that it can be commercially composted instead of landfilled.
- We’re also always looking for ways to re-purpose our used products, e.g., we have a bunch sent to mushroom farmers who then use them to grow fungi in!
Concern 8: Methane
Compostable packaging gives off methane in landfill.
Our Approach: To be honest this argument against compostable packaging makes us really cross. Here’s why. Most landfills are purpose-designed to prevent anything in them from degrading at all. However, under certain circumstances, some materials do start to break down in them. Under these conditions, our packaging will emit some methane, but no more than the orange peel alongside it and a helluva lot less than a paper bag – see graphic left which is from Life Cycle Analysis by RMIT University. Our packaging is the highlighted Starch-PBAT material.
If you are sending one of our bags to landfill, then more than likely, you are also sending your organic food waste there too. We’d suggest that perhaps you should be more concerned about the methane emissions from that, than a couple of courier satchels….
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