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Though the term compostable has become a major buzzword in recent years, a lot of confusion surrounds its meaning and application – especially among those without industry know-how. In order to avoid falling victim to greenwashing tactics, it’s important to be educated on what these eco-friendly terms mean.

Here is a run-down of everything you need to know about compostable packaging.

green and blue compostable top seal film package on rich brown soil
 

Greenwashing: Greenwashing occurs when organizations make misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology, or company practices.[1]

 

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When a product is compostable, it means that is able to disintegrate and release valuable nutrients into soil so that new plants can grow. However, in order for this happen, these compostable products need to be in the right setting and under the right conditions. There are two main settings that compostable materials can break down: in a home compost bin or in an industrial facility.

Two wooden compost bins in a residential back garden

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Home compostable packaging means that the materials can be placed in a home compost bin to decompose into nutrient-rich soil within a certain period of time. All material of the packaging should be able to breakdown including the printing ink.

pile of biowaste and green waste composting in large pile with blue sky in background

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Industrial compostable packaging means that the packaging can only decompose in an industrial composting facility. This is because the product requires high temperatures (of 55-60 degrees Celsius) in order to decompose. There are several different types of industrial compostable methods:

1. Windrow Composting

This method of composting involves placing the compostable waste into rows of long piles called windrows. These windrows are then rotated periodically (mechanically or manually) which helps generate enough heat to maintain the temperatures needed in the disintegration process. Though this is an inexpensive composting method, it is not suited for urban areas as the odors are able to freely escape.

2. Aerated Static Pile (ASP) Composting

The aerated Static Pile (ASP) composting process involves mixing organic waste with layers of bulking agents (such as woodchips or shredded newspaper) so that air can easily pass from the bottom to the top of the pile. Since it is a weather-sensitive method, this type of compost is usually better when covered. ASP composting can compost materials within 3-6 months.

3. In-Vessel Composting (IVC)

The in-vessel composting method uses specially designed vessels or rotative drums to compost organic waste. The IVC method is often preferred due to its ability to compost in just a few weeks, the wide variety of waste it can handle, and the fact that it takes up less land than windrows.

 

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Biodegradable and compostable are often used interchangeably; however, there are some key differences:

  1. Compost requires a particular setting for materials to breakdown whereas biodegradable products can break down in landfills.

  2. Composting is typically a faster process than biodegradation. Biodegradable products do not have a fixed timeframe for the materials to break down.

  3. Unlike many biodegradable materials, compostable materials do not produce toxins as they decompose.

  4. Compostable products are typically better for the earth than biodegradable ones since – unlike biodegradable materials - compostable materials have the ability to turn into nutrient-rich soil.

two sprouts in dark rich soil growing white roots
 
Compostable and Non-Compostable Packaging Materials
Material Home Compostable Industrial Compostable
Starch
Paper & Card
Recycled Paper Pulp
Moulded Bagasse Pulp
Moulded Palm Fibre
Moulded Bamboo Fibre/Pulp
Paperfoam
High Amylose Corn Starch
Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA)
Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB)
Uncoated Cellulose-based Films
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
Polypropylene (PP)
Polystyrene (PS)
Aluminum
Steel
Glass
Polylactic Acid (PLA) – Some Compostable Variants
Green Polyethylene
Bio-PET
Wood

Note: Some of the non-compostable materials can still be disposed of in environmentally friendly ways, such as recycling.

 

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To ensure that your business’s packaging materials are home or industrial compostable, companies may apply for certifications at organizations like TÜV AUSTRIA, though you will want to do some research as to which labels as best suited for your product.

During TÜV AUSTRIA’s certification process, packaging will undergo four tests:

  1. The Biodegration Test

  2. The Disintegration Test

  3. The Ecotoxicity Test

  4. The Heavy Metals Content Test

TUV Austria OK compost Home label

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OK compost HOME refers to products that compost at lower temperatures, so they can go into the compost heap in your garden at home.

TUV Austria OK compost Industrial label

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OK compost INDUSTRIAL refers to products that can be composted in an industrial facility at temperatures between 55-66 degrees Celsius.

 

Want to incorporate sustainable packaging practices into your operation?

From compostable packaging materials to waste-reducing automation, Crawford Packaging has the tools and expertise to help you take the necessary steps toward more sustainable packaging practices. Contact us to learn more today.

 
 

References

  1. What is Greenwashing? https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/greenwashing
  2. Compostable packaging: the myths, realities and future possibilities https://www.packaging-gateway.com/features/compostable-packaging/
  3. Types of Composting and Understanding the Process https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/types-composting-and-understanding-process
  4. OK compost & Seedling http://www.tuv-at.be/green-marks/certifications/ok-compost-seedling/

Crawford Packaging is a full-service packaging company located in London, Brampton and Waterloo, Ontario. From packaging to packaging equipment, installation and upgrades, and in-person equipment training and repair, we're focused on your business success every step of the way.

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