What to do with compostable packaging
Have you received an item you bought online delivered in a compostable packaging? Did you compost it, or did you put it in a landfill bin? Compostable sounds good, but it also sounds an extra chore, doesn’t it? We think recycling is easier, but the fact is not even half of recyclable materials get recycled. Experts warn that “recyclable” is dangerous because it makes consumers feel easy to consume more rather than trying to reduce their consumption.
Packaging is made for a single-use purpose, protecting what’s inside until the purchaser receives it. Packaging is responsible for 50% of 2.01 billion tonnes of global waste annually. We currently recycle paper and cardboard very well (about 85%), but other materials such as plastics, aluminum, and glass are mostly wasted. Unfortunately, majority of recyclable materials are not recycled. The main reasons are there is not enough facility for the amount we create, and recyclable items are thrown in landfill bins by consumers.
One of the solutions is to make packaging compostable. But do you know what to do with the compostable packaging? We will talk about how to compost at home later so that you know composting at home is easy. Composting organic waste is a big help to reduce Methane (about 28 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide) released from landfills during degradation process.
What does compostable packaging mean
If the package has “I’m compostable” message printed, is it compostable? Not always… For example, PLA (a type of plastic that is made from plant) is compostable only in an industrial environment. It is technically compostable but is not compostable in a natural environment.
Compostable materials can be broken down completely into non-toxic components in right conditions where there are moisture, air, and microorganisms. Compostable items should have been certified and you can look for certificate logo or information about the materials on the package or product web site.
Here’re examples of compostable and non-compostable items:
Tea bags - Tea leaves inside the bag are compostable, but the bag could be composted only in a specialized facility
Bubble padded mailer bag – Bubble pad inside the mailer bag is made of plastic and not compostable. Paper outside the bag may be compostable if you could separate it from a plastic layer.
Snack paper box – Most of these boxes are not compostable because they have plastic layer on the surface to make shiny looking. They are most likely recyclable though.
Cardboard box (with no wax coating) – You can compost cardboard boxes. Make sure to remove all sticky tapes, staples, and shipping labels.
Compostable mailer bags – If the bag is “Home compostable”, you can compost at home. Make sure to remove sticky tapes, shipping labels, and self-adhesive tape.
Receipts – Receipts you get from shops and shipping labels on delivery packages are thermal printing paper. They have BPA plastic liner and cannot be composted or recycled.
Cellulose film – The transparent film looks like plastic, but it is made from wood chips and is technically a transparent paper. It is often used for flower and gift wrapping. We use certified home compostable Cellulose film to protect our shower tablets, Shower Balls, from moisture and contamination. It provides most of the benefits plastic has and is home compostable.
Compostable vs. Biodegradable
What about biodegradable packages? Are they compostable?
Biodegradable means the material will eventually break down into a few natural elements. Depending on the material, it could take anything from 6 months to 1000 years to break down. Biodegradable does not mean non-toxic either. Technically, almost all products could be labelled “biodegradable” even plastics.
All compostable items are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable products are compostable. Both biodegradable and compostable items are potentially to be an environmentally friendly solution to the global waste problem, but only when processed correctly. It is easy to think these items will break down into safely in landfills. Unfortunately, the environment in landfills has very little oxygen, moisture, and microorganisms. The methane and carbon dioxide released during degradation process at landfills is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
If you were wondering if biodegradable garbage bags break down in landfills, the answer is no. If it looks like plastic and acts like plastic, when it gets in the environment, it is plastic no matter what it is made from.
Is compostable packaging good?
So, what’s the point of choosing compostable instead of recyclable? We like the word “recyclable”, but other than paper and cardboard, majority of recyclable materials are sent to landfills due to a lack of facilities. Especially the packages for food, drink, and other consumable goods are rarely recycled because of the contamination.
Compostable package on the other hand can help reduce toxics in landfills and improve soil quality. Adding compost to soil can reduce the water needed for plant, reduces needs of fertilizer, reduces diseases and pests. If you don’t compost at home, dispose of them in an Organic Waste bin. Because compost is valuable to farmers and the environment, try not to waste compostable materials.
Are compostable products recyclable?
Some compostable materials are recyclable such as cardboard and paper. However, compostable plastics are not recyclable. Bioplastics made from plants such as PBAT and PLA are compostable (either at home or at a facility), but they are currently not recyclable. If the shipping mailer bag is home compostable, the best way to dispose of it is composting.
Take a good look on each item to find and follow the disposal instruction. Putting items that are not recyclable in a recycle bin can contaminate all other recyclable items.
How to compost compostable packaging?
Composting packages with your kitchen and garden waste at home is the best. There are some myths, compost is smelly or messy, it is only for people with big backyards, it is time-consuming, or you need special equipment. These aren’t true and most people can compost in a wide variety of property types, and it can be done at minimal cost. If you don’t compost at home, you can dispose of compostable items in an Organic Waste bin.
What to do when you don’t have organic waste collection service or composting space? For example, you used Shower Balls at a campsite where there is no bin. You can dig some soil and burry the compostable pouches. Make sure not to leave the materials on the surface of the ground.
What is compost
Compost is the end product of decomposing organic materials in natural processes. It is a nutrient rich, soil-like material that can enrich soil and nourish plants to grow. This process takes time in nature, but we can speed it up by creating the ideal environment.
To properly compost organic materials, you need air, moisture, and microorganisms. And, to speed up the process, you can keep it at a warm place. At home, you should mix compostable packages with some kitchen and garden scraps to make good quality of compost.
How to compost at home
There are a few different ways you can compost. The best way for you depends on the space you have, how much compost you will produce, and how fast you want to finish compost. But there are items you should and shouldn’t include in your compost regardless of your preferred method. Depending on the temperature and moisture, composting will take 3 to 6 months to complete.
If you have garden, composting in a shady area is easy. You could use a bin designed for composting, but it is not required. You can just make a pile in the spot you chose. Just throw your scraps into the pile, use some brown stuff to cover green stuff, then walk away.
- There are countertop composters and recyclers that can process materials in a matter of hours. They are somewhat pricy, but you can compost meat and bones as well.
- Worm composting (AKA vermicomposting) relies on worms to eat materials. You could purchase a worm farm kit or make one yourself with a couple of plastic containers, paper, and soil. You could use earthworms, but redworms (red wigglers) are the best for composting.
Packaging is responsible for 50% of 2.01 billion tonnes of global waste annually. When you purchase goods, pay attention to packaging as much as the product itself. We can reduce the amount of packaging wasted by choosing products with less packaging and compostable packaging. Recycling packaging is better than sending to landfills, but be the reality is more than half of items put in recycle bin still don’t get recycled.
Composting at home may sound challenging if you have never done before, but it is easier than you think. If you don’t compost at home, you can dispose of compostable items in an Organic Waste bin. Composting can help improve food production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to make our environment better.
Containers and Packaging: Product-Specific Data - https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/containers-and-packaging-product-specific
Use plant-based plastic - https://plabottles.eu/recycling-pla/Breville FoodCycler - https://www.amazon.com.au/Breville-the-FoodCycler-Grey-LWR550GRY2JAN1/dp/B08VCRN8VK