Like biodegradable materials, compostable packaging is designed to be returned to the earth safely. The difference between these two packaging products is that compostable solutions go one step further, providing the earth with nutrients once the material has completely broken down.
While biodegradable materials are designed to break down within landfills, many compostable products require special conditions and must be composted at one of a growing number of dedicated commercial sites across North America. We are able to manufacture both home and industrial compostable products, sourced from corn starch, cassava, bamboo, etc. (PLA,PBS, PBAT).
- Certified materials will disintegrate within 12 weeks and biodegrade at least 90% within 180 days in an industrial composting facility.
- Ideal for use in closed systems such as amusement parks, stadiums and schools, where compostable and organic waste is carefully monitored and controlled.
- An effective means of reducing carbon footprint and diverting organic waste from landfill.
- Most compostable packaging today cannot be composted in a backyard/home composter. It must be taken to an industrial or commercial composting facility.
- Current labelling systems can be confusing for consumers.
- Few areas in the U.S. have curbside collection for industrial composting.
The FactsHow do I know if something is true to the definition of compostable or not? It will have ALL 3 of the following:
- The word ‘Compostable’ written on it,
- The letters ‘PLA’ written on it, or,
- A recycling arrow with a #7 printed on it**
**Important: If a product has a #7 inside of the recycling arrow printed on it, but does not have ‘compostable’ or ‘PLA’ on it, then it is NOT compostable. The #7 is also the label for mixed plastics, which are neither recyclable nor compostable. I wish there was a better labelling system, but that’s the way it is right now. Any U.S. legislators reading?
- Resin Indicator Codes (RICs) 1 through 6 identify specific plastic types. Everything else gets lumped together in the plastics proxy for the kitchen junk drawer — RIC #7/Other. When compostable resins joined the family, they landed in the junk drawer, too.
- Code 7 compostable — a.k.a. #7/PLA — indicates a plant-based resin that will degrade under certain conditions. Unfortunately, a landfill isn’t one of them, though that’s where most of them end up. They’re not very “biodegradable” in the wild, either.
- In truth, few communities recycle any Code 7 plastics. Code 7 compostables require processing at a modern, high-rate composting facility. But there just aren’t that many around. Even a #7/PLA composter might require in-house degradation testing if the plastic is not BPI-certified.
- Compounding the problem, Code 7s are showing up in recycling streams for Nos. 1-6. In these bins, a Code 7 plastic represents a contaminant. One misplaced container can destroy an entire recycling batch if not removed. No. 7 /O (Other) will also contaminate an otherwise compostable No. 7/PLA stream.
- Bottom line: pay attention to those RIC codes. Don’t assume any plastic is recyclable. Determine which resins the community does recycle, first. This is true for No. 7/Other and No. 7/PLA, too. If not on the local “accepted” list, make sure the resin doesn’t wind up in a recycle or compostables bin. Better yet, choose a product that can recycle where you live.
- Not all bio-plastics are compostible. The 3 classifications of bio-based are:
- Non-biodegradable and fully or partially bio-based (e.g., bio-based PET, bio-based PE,)
- Biodegradable and petroleum-based (g., PCL).
- Both biodegradable and fully or partially bio-based
- Compostable plastics are those plastics which have been tested and certified by a third party to adhere to international standards such as ASTM D6400 (in the U.S.) or EN 13432 (in Europe) for biodegradation in an industrial composting facility environment.
- Materials certified according to ASTM D6400 or EN 13432 will disintegrate within 12 weeks and biodegrade at least 90% within 180 days in a municipal or industrial composting facility.Approximately 10% of solid material will be left at the end of the six-month-long process in the form of valuable compost, or biomass and water. These standards also ensure that the leftover compost will be free of toxins, so the compost will not cause harm when the facility sells it for gardening or agricultural applications.
Unless otherwise denoted, certified compostable products must be disposed of in a designated municipal composting facility, not at home. Many certified compostable materials require the higher temperatures of industrial settings to biodegrade quickly enough, or in some cases at all.
Few areas in the U.S. have curbside collection for industrial composting, which is why certified compostable products are best utilized in closed systems such as amusement parks, stadiums and schools, where compostable and organic waste is carefully monitored and controlled to ensure proper disposal in an industrial composting facility. San Francisco International Airport and Safeco Field in Seattle are two good examples of organizations using composting as a means of reducing their carbon footprint and diverting organic waste from landfills.