Breaking it down: Study reveals success of compostable packaging

Breaking it down: Study reveals success of compostable packaging

Sustainability

A recent study has provided valuable insights into the breakdown of certified food-contact compostable packaging. Led by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, the Composting Consortium released a comprehensive report on the performance of compostable packaging in real-world composting facilities across the United States.

The report, titled "Breaking It Down: The Realities of Compostable Packaging Disintegration in Composting Systems," presents findings from an 18-month study, the largest of its kind in North America. Over 23,000 units of certified food-contact compostable packaging were tested in 10 diverse composting facilities, covering various types of fibre and compostable plastic packaging, including PLA and PHA.

The study revealed that certified food-contact compostable packaging generally breaks down successfully under reasonable operational conditions, such as compost pile temperatures, moisture levels, oxygen, pH, and other factors (outlined in The Composting Handbook).

Birodegradable & compostable coffee cup in compost heap © The Bag N Box Man LTD (CC BY 2.0)

These findings underscore the potential of certified compostable packaging as an alternative to conventional single-use plastic packaging. They also emphasise the importance of aligning these materials with existing recovery infrastructure and expanding robust recovery pathways to divert compostable packaging and food scraps from landfills, a key objective of the Composting Consortium.

Diane Hazard, Executive Director of the Compost Research and Education Foundation, said: Field testing for disintegration has been ongoing for three decades, and the Composting Consortium’s work across the value chain has significantly advanced insights for the industry. The collaborative approach and open-source data from this project both advances field testing methods and equips compost manufacturers and brands with the knowledge to better understand the variability of disintegration across different systems, all major steps towards successfully processing compostable packaging.
Kate Daly, Managing Director and Head of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, said: Alongside design and reduction as well as reuse and recycling, composting is an important solution for waste mitigation. Through this research, the Composting Consortium sheds light on what is needed for compostable packaging to have the greatest positive impact. Informed by this robust data, we can together ensure the responsible growth of compostable packaging and composting infrastructure, and drive toward circular outcomes, including increased diversion of food scraps and compostable packaging from landfills.

This article was originally published by Composting Consortium. Read the full report here.

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