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Steven Maxim

Steven Maxim
30 June 2022

Home Compostable – What Does It Actually Mean?

If packaging is claimed to be home compostable, it must be suitable to be placed in the compost bin or heap at home, along with all the other organic waste material such as fruit and vegetables, garden, and grass cuttings. Meaning that any home compostable packaging component materials must decompose into organic soil at temperatures that home compost bins and heaps commonly reach, including printing ink, transparent screens, and resealable zippers.

The main difference between home compostable and compostable packaging is their ability to decompose at different temperatures. The industry standard for composting in the UK is the EN 13432. It states that a home compostable package must be able to ‘disintegrate’ at temperatures between 20-30°C. After six months, over 90% of the product must pass through a 2mm sieve. Which, as you can imagine, is a tiny sieve!

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Why Do We Need Home Compostable?

Unfortunately, nothing is ever as simple as you would like it when trying to be environmentally responsible. The expression goes ‘There are more ways than one to skin a cat!’ There are many ways to be more sustainable and there is more than one type of compostable packaging! Many companies have released and introduced new ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ plastic alternatives like water bottles and bags, but this can often be misleading.

Many of these products only break down in industrial or commercial composting facilities where the compost is guaranteed to reach high temperatures. Although, in theory, that sounds great, the reality is that there are too few of these facilities available now.

To add even more confusion to the mix, some companies are introducing degradable bags that are neither compostable nor recyclable. They degrade quicker than ordinary plastic bags. Home compostable packaging should compost into the soil in an ordinary compost heap or bin at typical temperatures.

We need to act now because single-use plastic packaging accounts for an estimated 40% of all plastic produced in the world today. According to Defra, with more than half, or 51 million tonnes, recyclable waste ends up in landfills or destroyed in the UK. With stats like these everywhere and seemingly getting worse each year, the focus needs to turn to solutions for these mounting waste problems.


How To Dispose of Home Compostable Packaging

Gardening and thus composting is making a resurgence in the UK. With consumers being more conscious in their purchasing choices, now is the time for compostable packaging! Composting is the process of recycling organic waste to eventually be reused when you take organic materials and allow them to decompose, which then creates fertilizer for your soil.

If you have a compost heap or bin at home in your garden or outdoor space, simply put the packaging in with all the other garden waste, fruit and vegetable scraps, grass cuttings and brown materials such as small sticks and twigs. If you manage the compost heap effectively, turn it on a semi-regular basis, and use the right materials to compost, the packaging will have composted to the soil within six months and can be used to grow better vegetables and great flowers!


What Is Industrial Composting

In the packaging world, compostable and biodegradable mean something quite different. Typically, when a package is “compostable”, it can be turned into compost if entered into an industrial composting facility. And therein lies the vital distinction. Compostable products have to dispose of in the right conditions, often only found at commercial and industrial compost facilities. They won’t always biodegrade naturally in a landfill, especially if it is an “air locked” landfill where there will be no oxygen.

Compostable packaging is better for the environment than other types of non composting single use packaging that can take 100’s of years to decompose, but it is essential to ensure that your compostable packaging waste is going to a compost facility.

Although a product may state that it is ‘Compostable’, it does not mean that your local council will allow it in your green waste collections. The majority of local authorities will not take compostable packaging in either their garden or food waste collections. The risk of contamination can be too costly to the local authority. So although commercial composters, in theory, can process this waste, they are not doing so because of the risks of contamination.

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