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Breaking down composting

Breaking down composting. Home compostable versus commercially compostable.

When we look at the growth rate of takeaways in Aotearoa, according to current
Research and Markets, the Fast Food and Takeaway Food Services industry is worth $3.2 billion with a projected CAGR of 3.92% during the forecast period (2022 - 2027). So we know more food packaging is entering residential bins.  

Food scrap collections and the exclusion of non-food compostables

Discounting compostable packaging as a part of the future of waste management limits our capacity to recover, transform and produce new materials and/or energy as part of a circular economy. Because beyond reduced virgin fossil resources inputs, compostable materials represent a unique opportunity to divert more organic matter from landfill. Designed to decompose with food scraps, compostable packaging materials help increase the separate collection of bio-waste by recovering food scraps attached to (food) packaging that would otherwise be lost if the packaging is removed from the bio-waste stream.

Achieving a truly circular economy by 2050 requires carbon systems to become bio-based and renewable. Single-use plastic bans will achieve a balance shift in packaging material stock, yet beyond replacing fossil fuel plastics with a better alternative, to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable and carbon-neutral future, we must close the loop. We need collaborative approaches between experts on the circular economy, councils and people working in waste management to collect and process compostable materials at scale. 

Commercially compostable certifications based on EN 13432

Industrial composting is an established process with commonly agreed upon temperature and timeframe for biodegradable waste to metabolise to stable, sanitised products (biomass) for agriculture (humus/fertiliser). This process occurs under controlled conditions—temperatures, humidity, aeration, et cetera in industrial or municipal composting plants. 

The criteria for the industrial compostability of packaging are set out in the European standard EN 13432. EN 13432 requires compostable products to:

— disintegrate after 12 weeks

— and completely biodegrade after six months.

That means 90 per cent or more of the plastic material will have been converted to CO2. What remains is transformed into water and biomass – i.e. valuable compost. Materials and products complying with this standard can be certified and labelled accordingly.

READ: On-site with Compost Collect partner Canterbury Landscape Supplies

Home compostability certifications based on EN 13432

Currently, there are various national standards for home compostability of compostable materials and corresponding certification schemes. These standards are largely based on the European Standard EN 13432. 

To confirm compliance with these standards and schemes, compostable products are tested according to the conditions found in home composting systems—lower temperatures and longer dwell times compared to conditions in industrial composting facilities. Materials or products compliant with these standards can be recognised by a conformity mark stating their home compostability.

OK compost HOME certification details all the technical requirements a product must meet to obtain the certification. Defined in 2003, the requirements of the OK compost HOME programme still today serve as the basis for the drafting of several standards such as: 

— Australia: AS 5810 (2010) – Biodegradable plastics - Biodegradable plastics suitable for home composting

— France: NF T 51800 (2015) – Plastics - Specifications for plastics suitable for home composting

— Europe: prEN 17427 (2020) - Packaging — Requirements and test scheme for carrier bags suitable for treatment in well-managed home composting installations.

International Organisation for Standardisation Criteria

Under the International Organization for Standardization (IOS), there are standards for both home and commercial composting. The main standards are from Europe, the US, and Australia.

Most commercial composting standards require a product to:

1) 100% biodegrade,

2) biodegrade into completely non-toxic by-products, and

3) biodegrade within 90 days.

The Australian Standard AS 5810-2010 for home composting requires a product to:

1) 100% biodegrade,

2) biodegrade into completely non-toxic by-products, and

3) biodegrade within 180 days.

The specified requirements for home and commercial composting standards differ in the time frame. Materials break down faster in a commercial compost facility due to the controlled environment, and this is largely a condition of heat. 

READ: What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable?

The governments new era for waste fails to recognise that packaging recyclability and reusability efforts are not enough

July 01, further single-use plastic bans come into effect as our government works toward eliminating #3, #6 and #7 plastics in select applications. The plastic bans are part of the Transforming Recycling work and a broader new era for waste management in Aotearoa, New Zealand, announced on March 29 a waste strategy that commits Aotearoa, New Zealand, to a low-emissions, low-waste circular economy by 2050. 

Multinational and local businesses signed the New Zealand Plastic Packaging Declaration and or New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, pledging to use 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in local operations by 2025. And while The Ministry for the Environment supports adopting certified compostable packaging where recycling efforts are failing, the emphasis remains on increasing recycling rates which are, at best, 28%. 

The waste strategy should have provided a considerable evaluation of the ethical responsibility of phasing out plastics for alternative materials. Because while compostable materials are cyclical like those of nature—produced with waste materials and reusable at the end of their life, inadequate national infrastructure exists.

READ: Plastic recycling was never going to work, and the industry knew it

As business owners or those in procurement positions, we must continue shifting product preferences in line with ecological needs. We’re ready. Are our national waste management systems and enterprises ready? 

With over 500 SKUs, we offer packaging alternatives to all existing single-use disposable plastics in use and a full circle recovery service—Compost Collect in select regions. For more information, please speak with your account manager or send us an email at