The demand for compostable products has increased hugely in the past 12 months, largely because they are being viewed by consumers as a ‘more sustainable’ option than recyclables. It’s wonderful to see the general public taking such a passionate interest in sustainability – it’s a tidal wave of positive momentum for the planet, and everybody doing a little can really make a difference.
However, if you are considering switching to compostable products, it is important to consider the bigger picture. Here are some facts and considerations to note if you are considering compostable for your business.
What is a compostable product?
Compostable products are made from various renewable plant-based materials including corn starch (Polylactic Acid), bagasse, wood pulp and palm leaf. They are manufactured to be resilient and practical in their intended use. In many cases, they are lined with PLA as a liquid barrier to protect the board or pulp element of the product.
How are products deemed compostable?
For a product to be deemed compostable it must be EN13432 certified. The product is thoroughly tested to ensure that it composts fully within an industrial composter before it can receive the EN13432 certification.
Are compostable products plastic-free?
Compostable packaging is sometimes described as ‘plastic-free’ but this is not always true. Many businesses switching to compostable products, in particular PLA, are making the big statement that they are going ‘plastic-free’. PLA is derived from plants and is therefore made from a renewable resource. But it is nonetheless a plastic and will not break down unless under commercial composting conditions. It’s also important to remember that compostability is not an inherent property of a material – it relates to a material when it is in a particular form. For example, a material in the form of a thin film might be compostable, but the same material in a thicker form may not be.
How do we dispose of compostable product?
Always place your compostable packaging in your brown compost bin with your food waste. Ensure that your waste provider brings it to a commercial composting facility where it will be industrially composted and broken down in less than 12 weeks.
Compostable packaging should not be placed in a general waste bin or in a recycling bin. The packaging will not break down unless it is industrially composted.
So, what’s the best environment for compostables?
Compostable packaging is best suited to a closed environment like contract catering and corporate food service with ample, clearly marked brown compost bins available. It can also be a good option for conferences and events if reusable ceramic cups and plates are not practical, as packaging can go into the compost bin with the food waste. Just ensure your bins are clearly labelled!
It is less suited to an environment where the user is likely to leave your premises with the product, for example with a compostable coffee cup. You may have a brown bin on site, but your customers is likely to take their coffee down the street. In Ireland, there are no compost bins available in public places, so the cup is likely to be disposed of in a general waste bin and thus not actually be composted.