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Does Compostable Packaging Actually Break Down? Groundbreaking Findings by Composting Consortium



The Composting Consortium, a collaborative initiative led by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, has released a significant report addressing the effectiveness of compostable packaging.



This 18-month study, the largest of its kind in North America, provides crucial insights into how certified, food-contact compostable packaging disintegrates in commercial composting facilities.

With many new compostable packaging solutions in the market such as compostable bags, stretch film, shrink film, nets, and more, the study confirms that bioplastic composts in the field, in the composting facilities, and not only in the lab, where it is certified.

The technology is safe and effective and promises to be one of the key components in the efforts of brands, manufacturers, and retailers to reduce plastic waste.



Key Findings of the Study

The report, titled Breaking It Down: The Realities of Compostable Packaging Disintegration in Composting Systems, tested over 23,000 units of compostable packaging across 10 diverse composting facilities in the U.S. This extensive testing included 31 types of fiber and plastic compostable products, such as PLA and PHA.

Disintegration Success

  1. Compostable Plastics: Achieved an average of 98% disintegration by surface area, surpassing the 90% threshold typically set by industry standards. This success was observed across five different composting methods and varied operational conditions.

  2. Compostable Fibers: Reached 83% disintegration on average, meeting the 80% industry threshold. Enhanced disintegration was noted under specific conditions like regular turning, agitation, and maintaining moisture levels above 50%.

Implications for the Industry

The findings underscore the viability of compostable packaging as an effective alternative to single-use plastics, provided they are processed in facilities with appropriate operational parameters. With the U.S. composting industry still evolving, approximately 70% of composters who process food waste also handle some form of food-contact compostable packaging. This alignment is crucial for diverting more food waste and compostable materials from landfills, where they contribute significantly to methane emissions.

The Path Forward

For compostable packaging to realize its potential, several factors need to be addressed:

  • Consistent Labeling and Design: Clear differentiation between compostable and non-compostable packaging is essential.

  • Robust Composting Infrastructure: Policies must support the expansion and enhancement of composting facilities to process these materials effectively.

The Consortium aims to use the study's findings to:

  • Inform Policymaking: Collaborate with regulatory bodies to develop policies that support compostable packaging.

  • Update Best Practices: Provide composting facilities with updated guidelines to improve processing efficiency.

  • Develop Standards: Shape a standard field test for evaluating compostable packaging disintegration, contributing to an open-source database on the subject.

Collaboration and Future Steps

The Consortium's efforts are supported by various partners, including the US Composting Council and the Compost Research and Education Foundation. The data will be integrated into the Compostable Field Testing Program (CFTP) and assist ASTM International in developing a standardized field test method.

Industry and Environmental Impact

Diane Hazard, Executive Director of the Compost Research and Education Foundation, highlights the collaborative approach of the study, which equips the industry with knowledge to understand disintegration variability across different systems. Frank Franciosi, Executive Director of the US Composting Council, emphasizes the importance of consumer education and the reevaluation of best management practices to support composters accepting compostable packaging.

Kate Daly, Managing Director at Closed Loop Partners, stresses that alongside reduction, reuse, and recycling, composting is vital for waste mitigation. The research ensures the responsible growth of compostable packaging and composting infrastructure, driving towards circular outcomes and increased diversion of food scraps and compostable materials from landfills.

Conclusion

The Composting Consortium's groundbreaking study provides a positive outlook on the future of compostable packaging. It confirms that, under the right conditions, compostable packaging can effectively break down, supporting the shift towards more eco-friendly and biodegradable packaging solutions. The continued collaboration and data-driven approaches will be key to maximizing the environmental benefits and scalability of compostable packaging.


To find some of the latest innovations in compostable flexible packaging and reduce your company's plastic footprint, please contact us and tell us about your challenges.


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