Compostable packaging is packaging that is made from plant-based, recyclable materials that will degrade naturally when left in the environment, producing zero harmful toxins.

The Environmental Impact of Non-compostable Packaging

Plastic packaging tends to be incinerated or ends up in landfill where it takes hundreds of years to break down.

Breakdown of this packaging releases greenhouse gases such as methane which contributes to climate change. 

In addition, toxins and microplastics leak into the soil polluting plant and water biodiversity as well as human water supplies. In addition, habitats are destroyed by fires that ignite from the accumulation of toxic gases.

Toxins also have a detrimental impact on air quality, resulting in a higher risk of respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system disorders as well as life-limiting conditions such as cancer in those that live near landfill sites and incinerators.

Furthermore, packaging waste that isn’t recycled can be ingested by marine wildlife or cause wildlife to suffocate.

The Benefits of Compostable Packaging

Compostable packaging has many benefits:

  • It requires less carbon to produce
  • It reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill and incinerators
  • Its end-of-life disposal is environmentally friendly, providing the earth with life-promoting nutrients once it is fully broken down

Given how environmentally aware consumers are nowadays (they expect packaging to be ethical!), using compostable packaging will improve customers’ perception of your brand.

Compostable Packaging Materials

Compostable packaging is made from a combination of recycled natural materials and organic, plant-based raw substances such as wood pulp, cotton or potato starch.

Examples of fully compostable packaging include cardboard boxes, gardening twine and paper bubble wrap.

There are companies like Kempner who have decades of experience in the packaging industry.

These companies can help select sustainable packaging options and understand the most appropriate disposal routes.

They can also help minimise any adverse effects on the environment by supplying shrinkwrap materials like sugarcane polyolefin, which contains up to 51% sugarcane cellulose.

Sugar cane is one of the greenest materials on the market; when sugar cane is produced it sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, whereas manufacture of standard oil-based polythene releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In addition to being made of green materials, shrinkwrap film can also be compostable too.

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Consumer Awareness of Composting

The term ‘compostable’ often causes a lot of confusion. Many consumers believe that it means the item can be freely disposed of in the garden, due to only being aware of compost as a common plant fertiliser.

However, in reality, compostable packaging must be separated from other materials for processing and disposed of correctly for optimal environmental outcomes to be achieved.

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Home composting is an excellent way to reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfill, however, not all consumers can compost packaging and not all those who can are aware how to do it correctly.

Cardboard Is Compostable but Bulky to Transport

Although cardboard is perceived as a greener packaging option due to its compostability, manufacture of cardboard uses a lot of water, generates high gas emissions and promotes deforestation if not sourced sustainably.

In addition, cardboard is bulky to transport (i.e. high fuel emissions) and needs a large amount of storage space. 

Consumers don’t often realise that cardboard cannot be recycled or composted if it is contaminated with food waste (e.g. pizza grease). Shrinkwrap is compostable and takes up very little space compared to cardboard packaging.

Council Food Waste Schemes

UK councils organise regular collection of household and business food waste.

Although some food waste is inevitable, such as tea bags, eggshells and apple cores, many households throw away food that has spoiled or gone past its ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date. 

Fun/horrifying facts – a third of all global food production is discarded as food waste and the UK produces ~9.5 million tonnes of food waste per year, the majority of which ends up in landfill.

Compostable shrinkwrap use in food packaging will both help to prevent food waste as well as being environmentally conscientious.

Shrinkwrap Is Leading the Way

Shrinkwrap is no longer only made from PVC or polyethylene. In an exciting environmental breakthrough for the packaging industry, modern shrinkwrap films are now compostable and biodegradable, made from ethically sourced plant-based materials such as sugarcane or corn starch.

These greener shrinkwrap film options contain up to 20% naturally raw materials and fully comply with EC legislation and ASTM standards for ecotoxicity and biodegradability.

They can also be safely used for food packaging as they have an LDPE rating of 4.

For those concerned about costs, although compostable shrinkwrap packaging is slightly more expensive than plastic shrinkwrap, it is compatible with most existing shrinkwrap machinery minimising additional cost implications.

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The Introduction of the New Plastic Packaging Tax

Given the imminent introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) in April 2022, more companies will be looking to move towards more sustainable packaging options and giving serious thought to recyclability.

The PPT applies to packaging containing under 30% recycled material for companies manufacturing or importing under 10 tonnes of packaging per year.

Unfortunately, the definition of recycling plastics does not currently include ‘organic recycling’, so sustainable shrinkwrap such as sugarcane polyolefin will still be taxed under the PPT.

However, this rule is currently under review by the government as it does not support the original plastic-reducing goal of the tax.