Answering common, tricky questions about compostable packaging
Compostable packaging has, due to global strategies for the elimination of disposable synthetic plastic products, become mainstream. With further plastic bans as of October 2022 and tranche 2 of the hard-to-recycle plastic phase-out confirmed for July 2023, people are more engaged in waste, climate and sustainability conversations. This is an opportunity for you to highlight the actions you are taking as a business to reduce your impact.
To guide you in answering the trickier questions clearly and concisely, we’ve put together some quick answers to common questions. You could circulate this article among your staff to get the whole team confidently discuss your sustainable packaging choices!
Q. How do I commercially compost your packaging?
If you (place of business) have an organic waste collection accessible to the public. We separate food scraps and compostable packaging for collection, and we encourage you to return our Ecoware packaging on your next visit. Our compost is collected [frequency] and sent to a nearby commercial compost facility.
OR: You can also suggest if your customers are composting at home.
If you compost at home, some Ecoware packaging is certified for home compost—the sugarcane and kraft tableware products. Just rip them into small pieces. That will help the product compost faster. It depends on how hot your compost gets, other materials in the compost, aeration, and other elements. Still, from customer feedback, we know other items will compost, such as wooden cutlery, but it can take months.
OR: If you live in an area where commercial composting is currently limited and/or are yet to implement organic waste collection.
At this stage, compost collection infrastructure in our area is limited. That said, we focus on the raw material—what the packaging is made from and the impacts on human and environmental health. Over 99% of plastic begins with fossil fuels. Plastic production, use, and disposal releases microplastics and toxic chemicals that accumulate in our environment, food chain, and bodies. In addition, from an energy perspective, compared to traditional PET and PS (polystyrene), compostable packaging emits up to 80% less greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing.
Q. I’m a customer, and I can’t bring my Ecoware packaging back to you, so will it just end up in a landfill?
At this stage, compost collections infrastructure remains underdeveloped. Throughout Aotearoa, 12 industrial and three community compost facilities are currently accepting certified compostable packaging.
The reality is that our national recycling rate is 28%, and yes, due to a lack of composting infrastructure, we are not able to recover and transform compostable materials efficiently, and this packaging also often ends up in a landfill. However, the environmental impacts are not the same. Conventional plastics are oil and once disposed of, release microplastics and toxic chemicals that accumulate in our environment, food chain, and bodies. Some of these plastics are known carcinogens.
The problems caused by petroleum-based conventional plastics are evident—high energy and resource consumption, environmental pollution and climate change acceleration. So when we choose food and beverage packaging made from plants, that’s already a win for the planet.
Q. Where are the commercial compost facilities in Aotearoa, New Zealand?
Take a look at the Ecoware website under 'disposal' there is a menu item to access 'facilities' which features a map pinpointing all the locations across the country that accept compostable packaging. There are nearly 100 community and commercial facilities, and currently, 13 accept and process Ecoware packaging into compost.
Q. What does commercial composting even mean?
For something to be sold as “commercially compostable”, it has to have been tested and certified to prove that it will:
— Biodegrade completely
— Biodegrade entirely within 90 days
— And leave only non-toxic biomass behind.
Ecoware products are certified commercially compostable, meaning they fully biodegrade, producing non-toxic biomass (compost) and biodegrade within 90 days. Certifications apply to controlled environments, most commercial compost facilities maintaining high temperatures of around 65°C.
Q. Will compostable packaging break down in my home compost system?
Ecoware products break down in a home compost bin? We don't recommend it unless the product is specifically certified "home compostable". However, really depends on your compost heap – usually, home composts are cold, and therefore it takes a lot longer for packaging to break down. Some customers have trialled Ecoware products in their home compost bins and have been successful.
Q. Can I put compostable packaging in my home bin?
Some Ecoware packaging is certified for home compost—the sugarcane and kraft tableware products. Just rip them into small pieces; that will help the product compost faster. Generally, we cannot recommend that this packaging is suitable for home composting due to variations in home composting environments. That said, from customer feedback, we know packaging has been composted, though keep in mind timeframes are beyond 90 days. It really depends on how hot your compost gets, other materials in the compost, aeration, and other elements.
Q. Should we not be encouraging reusables?
We do, and we are but what remains evident is behaviours. Habits die hard. In some instances such as music events, BYO is not an option. In other settings such as stadiums and festivals, BYO is highly impractical—billions of single-use products are used each year.
What we know are the problems caused by petroleum-based conventional plastics—high energy and resource consumption, environmental pollution and climate change acceleration. Microplastics have been discovered in human blood and in the lungs. By removing plastic packaging from takeout joints, stadiums and supermarkets, we are reducing the amounts of these toxic materials, their impacts on human and planetary health.
If there are other questions you would like us to answer, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to help.