The time for compostable packaging is now, says manufacturing veteranPosted on August 8th, 2019 in Insights by AUSPACK
The Australian government has committed to bold targets for 2025 in terms of reusable packaging.
By that year, it wants 100% of Australian packaging to be made from materials that can create a circular economy and 70% of all packaging to be reused, recycled or composted.
Steve McCormick, managing director of Parkside Flexibles, spoke at AUSPACK Business and Industry Conference about the importance of focussing on the compostable element of that goal.
What benefits does compostable packaging offer?
It’s been argued by many people that we’re not ready to offer compostable packaging, simply because it’s not as good as its alternatives.
Plastics, polyesters and other similar materials – that aren’t compostable – offer a better barrier for food products, which increases their shelf life and reduces food waste, all while being cheap.
In defence of compostables, Steve said, “Why compostable? Compostable has been criticised, it’s been said it’s not a particularly good alternative to plastic packaging. I’m not saying for one minute we can replace all the plastic packaging. We can’t, that’s impossible. However, we can replace some of it.”
“There is no amount of compostable packaging in the world to replace plastic. Plastic has a huge benefit to mankind, in the fact that it’s light and it protects. What we can try to replace is these multi-layer barrier laminate materials that cannot be recycled.”
“It’s sustainable. Where we talk about recycling, in a sense, we could say this is organic recycling. It comes from plants, it comes from trees, and eventually it goes back into the earth.”
Where are compostable materials best suited?
If one of the biggest supporters of compostable packaging admits that it has its shortcomings against traditional materials, where can we see it used effectively?
Steve said, “The products that we’ve put in so far: snack bars are ideal for this and cereals. Crisps is a bigger challenge because they’re very greasy, but they don’t have a great shelf life anyway – three to four months in metallised plastic – that was a big challenge, but we’ve sorted that one out now.”
“Coffee was a big win for us because we didn’t feel we could actually solve the coffee problem. Its shelf life is so great and it expires a gas so it has to be under total control but we’ve now got one out in the marketplace. Any snack pack and we’ve even done it for some protein packaging. It has a use in certain things, but not everything.”
One thing was clear from Steve’s talk. Even though it’s not used in everything, it’s definitely being used in more products as time goes on.
One of the key challenges with the target of having 70% of all packaging reused, recycled or composted is to make sure consumers understand what they should do with materials after they’ve served their purpose.
The problem at the moment is that lots of products in Australian stores have vague claims that allude to them being compostable, but without any sort of fact or test behind those claims, they’re often misleading.
Steve said, “This is the problem with compostables. We just trailed around a supermarket and we took bags that said they were ethical, that they could be recycled, that they could be composted, that they were biodegradable and, to a certain extent you could argue the case for all of those being correct, but actually unless they have formal accreditation, which Australia has one, then that is not true. None of these products that we picked off shelves had accreditation, nothing to prove they could do what they’re supposed to do.”
Another consideration is that there are two different types of compostable accreditation: industrial and home composting. The difference is where an item can be composted: industrial means people can’t do it at home and the restrictions for home composting accreditation are much higher.
This links into the key difference between ‘compostable’ items and other products that are ‘biodegradable’ and the like. Steve said, “Everything biodegrades; every single thing in the world biodegrades. If you put a fridge into the landfill, in 1000 years time it will probably have biodegraded. The difference is time: compostable has to fully, or just about fully, disintegrated in a certain time period. The time periods recorded was 12 weeks industrial, 26 weeks for home. That’s the difference.”
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