Compostable Packaging: The Ultimate Eco Guide

Last updated: June 12, 2023.
Writen by :
IVY
Customer Associate
Compostable Packaging

Ever wondered where our daily plastic packaging goes?

Sadly, most ends up in landfills or oceans, harming our environment.

Compostable packaging, made of materials like kraft paper and PLA, provides an eco-friendly solution. It decomposes naturally when correctly disposed.

Although compostable packaging isn't new, recent awareness about plastic's environmental impact has boosted its popularity.

With more composting resources available, it's becoming a practical waste reduction solution.

We'll explore how this packaging benefits both home and industrial settings.

Join us to learn how these materials can help us protect our planet.

Contents hide

Advantages of Compostable Packaging

Lower Environmental Footprint

Compostable packaging, crafted from plant-based materials, is a green alternative to conventional packaging.

It breaks down into natural elements, minimizing its environmental impact compared to non-compostable options.

Unlike traditional materials that linger in landfills for centuries, compostable packaging decomposes swiftly and harmlessly.

Rising Demand for Eco-friendly Products

Today's consumers, more environmentally aware, favor products with less planetary impact and are ready to pay a premium for sustainable choices.

By adopting compostable packaging, businesses can cater to this rising demand and appeal to eco-aware consumers.

Research indicates that 72% of consumers will pay extra for sustainable goods, presenting an opportunity for businesses to boost profits.

Potential Business Cost Savings

Despite cost concerns, the switch to compostable packaging may yield savings in waste disposal fees.

Conventional packaging contributes to landfill overflow and pollution, while compostable alternatives can decrease waste output and associated costs.

Certain municipalities even offer incentives for using compostable materials.

Understanding Compostable Packaging Biodegradation

What is Biodegradable Packaging

Biodegradation Process

Compostable packaging decomposes naturally into organic components via microorganisms, resulting in nutrient-rich compost.

Compared to Plastic

Unlike traditional plastics that take centuries to degrade and emit harmful chemicals, compostable packaging decomposes faster without releasing toxins.

Factors Influencing Biodegradation

The rate of biodegradation depends on factors like:

  • Temperature: Higher temperatures accelerate biodegradation.
  • Moisture: Necessary for microorganisms to work.
  • Oxygen: Some methods need oxygen for optimal results.
  • Microbial activity: Certain microbes speed up the process.

Remember, not all compostable packaging degrades equally; some need specific conditions or take more time.

Hence, following disposal guidelines and using certified composting facilities is crucial.

Making Compostable Packaging

Materials in Compostable Packaging

Compostable packaging employs plant-based plastics, recycled kraft paper, and biodegradable polymers, all compatible with industrial or home composting.

FSC-certified paper from sustainable forests is a common choice.

Manufacturing Compostable Packaging

In making compostable packaging, materials are collected, prepared, then mixed with water and additives to form a slurry.

This slurry is heat-shaped into packaging, possibly printed, and then shipped. The manufacturing process varies per application and business requirements.

Compostability Standards and Certifications

To verify compostability, certifications like BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute), adhering to ASTM D6400 standards for industrial composting, or OK Compost Home for home composting are available.

Businesses may seek either or both certifications.

Compostable Packaging Applications

Compostable packaging is versatile, suitable for food service items, consumer goods, and even shipping materials, helping businesses reduce supply chain waste.

Debunking Compostable Packaging Myths

Debunking Compostable Packaging Myths 1

Biodegradable vs. Compostable Materials

A common misunderstanding is equating compostable packaging with biodegradable materials.

While both decompose, biodegradable materials can leave harmful residues, unlike compostable materials.

Not All Plastics are Compostable

Another fallacy is the belief that all plastics can be composted. Only certain types like PLA, derived from renewable resources, are compostable.

Compostable Packaging Durability

Though some people consider compostable packaging less robust than traditional plastics, technological advances have created stronger and more effective alternatives.

Compostable Packaging in Real World

The effectiveness of compostable packaging is backed by research.

Studies reveal successful biodegradation in real-world settings, comparable to yard waste.

Effectiveness of Compostable Packaging

Proven Biodegradation in Real Settings

There are concerns about compostable packaging's actual biodegradation.

However, multiple studies confirm its effective decomposition in real-world conditions.

For example, University of Plymouth discovered noissue's compostable mailers fully degraded in 12 weeks in a home compost bin.

University of California Berkeley found various compostable food packaging biodegraded at rates similar to yard waste.

Successful Business Implementation

Many companies have effectively switched to compostables, addressing concerns about large-scale practicality.

For example, Chipotle uses plant-based cutlery, Starbucks has compostable cups and straws at select locations, and Whole Foods uses compostable produce bags.

Improvement through Research

While current research proves compostable packaging's effectiveness, development continues for improvements.

Some researchers explore durable compostable plastics that withstand high temperatures, while others investigate new organic materials for better biodegradation rates.

Proper Disposal of Compostable Packaging

Disposal Guidelines

Compostable packaging offers an eco-friendlier alternative to plastic. However, proper disposal is essential:

Check for specific instructions on packaging.

Separate compostables from other waste to avoid contamination.

Remove non-compostable elements before disposal.

Identify your composting options, commercial or home-based.

Commercial vs Home Composting

Commercial composting handles a wider material range than home composting, using specialized equipment and high heat.

If commercial services are unavailable, home composting is a viable alternative.

For home composting, cut the material into smaller pieces and mix with organic matter to aid decomposition.

Avoiding Contamination

Separating compostables is critical, as contamination can render them unrecyclable and harm the environment.

Organic matter mixed with non-compostables in landfills decomposes anaerobically, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

By correctly disposing of organic waste, we can lower our carbon footprint and foster environmental conservation.

Future of Compostable Packaging

Surging Demand for Sustainable Alternatives

Rising environmental consciousness has accelerated demand for sustainable packaging solutions, including compostable packaging.

Made from materials like soy, compostable packaging, properly disposed, can naturally decompose, posing a robust alternative to traditional plastic packaging.

Reducing Plastic Pollution Potential

Compostable packaging could significantly contribute to plastic pollution reduction.

Unlike traditional plastic taking centuries to decompose, compostable alternatives quickly and safely break down.

Compostable mailers exemplify this benefit, offering an eco-friendlier alternative to plastic mailers.

Challenges for Widespread Adoption

Despite its advantages, compostable packaging faces hurdles.

The economy is one such challenge, as compostable packaging production can be costlier than its traditional plastic counterparts.

Also, while compostable packaging can naturally decompose, improper disposal (e.g., regular trash disposal) can undermine its effectiveness.

Examples Of Companies Using Compostable Packaging

Compostable packaging is gaining traction among major brands and small businesses across various industries, including food, fashion, and beauty.

Prominent Brands

Puma replaced traditional shoeboxes with reusable bags made from recycled PET and compostable materials.

L'Oreal introduced compostable packaging alongside its commitment to using 100% renewable energy.

McDonald's, planning to replace all plastic straws with paper ones in UK outlets by 2019, also initiated fiber-based salad packaging.

Small Businesses

Small businesses are adopting compostable packaging to decrease waste and attract eco-friendly customers.

EcoEnclose provides recyclable and biodegradable kraft mailers from 100% recycled material, while The Better Packaging Co. offers home-compostable courier bags.

Food Establishments

Restaurants, cafes, and food trucks are also embracing compostable takeout containers to reduce waste and attract sustainability-conscious customers.

Chipotle and Sweetgreen are among these establishments.

Compostable Packaging: Pros, Cons, and Types

Pros: Eco-Friendly and Sustainable

Compostable packaging breaks down into natural materials, presenting a green alternative to traditional packages.

It's eco-friendly, reducing landfill waste and avoiding harmful decomposition chemicals.

The materials, like cornstarch and sugarcane, are renewable and don't require fossil fuels.

Additionally, its production uses less energy and emits fewer greenhouse gases.

Cons: Higher Cost and Limited Availability

However, compostable packaging can be more costly due to the pricier materials and specialized equipment used.

Its availability is limited as not all regions have composting facilities, meaning compostables might end up in landfills, not decomposing as intended.

Types of Compostable Packaging

Compostable packaging varies from food containers to bags.

Food containers, made from plant-based materials like bamboo fiber, are suitable for hot or cold foods. Compostable bags, on the other hand, are a great eco-friendly swap for traditional plastic bags.

They decompose faster and return valuable nutrients to the soil, making them a more sustainable choice.

Key Distinctions: Compostable vs Biodegradable

  • Compostable materials (like food waste, some bioplastics) decompose in compost bins into rich soil under specific conditions (heat, water, oxygen).
    Biodegradable materials break down into smaller parts naturally, but don't always turn into nutrient-rich soil.
  • Proper disposal matters: compostable items go in compost bins, benefiting the environment; biodegradable items need longer to decompose and require special facilities.
  • Beware of 'greenwashing': companies may misleadingly label products as "eco-friendly" or "biodegradable" without specifics, causing confusion.

Conclusion

Compostable packaging serves as a green replacement to regular plastic packaging, lessening waste and environmental harm.

Despite misconceptions, it has shown effectiveness for businesses aiming to lessen their carbon footprint, as it decomposes naturally and can be composted conveniently.

The future seems bright for compostable packaging, with adoption by more firms, including Patagonia, McDonald's, and Nestle.

Yet, it comes with challenges: its production can be costlier than conventional plastic and appropriate disposal needs specific composting facilities.

Before choosing compostable packaging, it's essential to thoroughly consider the benefits and drawbacks and understand the difference between compostable and biodegradable materials.

Compostable Packaging FAQs

Can I recycle compostable packaging?

No, you cannot recycle compostable packaging as it requires special facilities for proper disposal.

Is all compostable packaging made from plant-based materials?

No, some types of compostable packaging can also be made from animal by-products such as feathers or fish scales.

How long does it take for compostable packaging to decompose?

Compostable packaging can take anywhere from 3-6 months to fully decompose in an industrial composter.

Can I use my backyard composter for disposing of compostable products?

It depends on the type of composter you have. Backyard or home-based systems may not reach high enough temperatures required for proper decomposition.

Are there any regulations around the use of compostable packaging?

Yes, there are various regulations and certifications that compostable packaging must meet to ensure it is environmentally safe and effective.

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