Breaking it down. Is Compostable Packaging As Great An Alternative As We Claim?

Breaking it down. Is Compostable Packaging As Great An Alternative As We Claim?


As we all try to move away from single use plastic, one big question is commonly being asked - is compostable packaging as great an alternative as it claims to be, and how does it fit in solving the waste crisis?

Because we at Innocent Packaging strongly believe in transparency and because we’re proud of what we do, we’re excited to launch this info series of everything you need to know; from creating a healthy compost, through to the future of bioplastic made of carbon pulled straight from the atmosphere [1]. We see the waste crisis as a multi faceted problem that requires a multi faceted solution, compostable packaging is one amazing part of that solution and if we all collaborate we can succeed.

With plastic now sitting as the leading concern for New Zealanders [2], waste is at the absolute forefront of all of our minds, and of course it should be - we are drowning in plastic already, yet “every minute the equivalent of a truck full of plastic is emptied into the world’s oceans” [3] in a quickly escalating environmental disaster. With the sudden and ferocious onset of awareness of this issue, there is, thankfully, a news article and more information revealed about the waste industry every single day. What is being uncovered is truly a waste crisis: despite best efforts, most plastics are not recycled [4], landfills are full of food waste, and inconsistencies in waste management infrastructure nationwide are causing major confusion about waste streams.


Our mission is simple, where disposable food packaging is used we will supply a sustainable, compostable option that is made from plants, yep plants.

 


We want to unmake everything we make, and have a very aggressive target to get all of our packaging composted and make our business completely circular. Because waste is a hot topic, a key concern for consumers is that not all compostable packaging makes it to compost. This is a valid concern which we feel very strongly about, but an issue that is complex and not able to be solved overnight.

Most compost facilities in New Zealand are currently not able to take compostable packaging but it’s important to note that they also cannot currently take high volumes of food waste, and the infrastructure required to take both is the same. A standard compost operation at the moment processes green waste from gardens with the purpose of producing high quality compost for our farms, which is fantastic but not aligned with current waste minimisation targets.

In New Zealand approximately 50% of our waste to landfill is organic waste that could, and should, go to compost instead. [5]

 

At the moment, much of our packaging that is used outside of Auckland is included in the terrifying waste stream of organics to landfill. Nothing breaks down properly in landfill, so we are wasting huge amounts of nutrients that could be returned to the soil, and the anaerobic degradation that does happen in landfill releases methane that contributes to the climate crisis.

The most exciting thing is that the work to fix these problems is happening now, central government and councils around NZ all have waste minimisation targets that really focus on reducing waste to landfill, and a big component of this is getting organic waste to compost instead. Compostable packaging helps divert food waste from landfill by serving as a vessel for food scraps, it has also been shown to be an effective carbon or bulking input similar to other paper products or wood chips. [6]

Our vision is to get all of our products to compost and that this will happen when leaders and industry all work together collaboratively nationwide to minimise waste; compostable packaging is not creating a new waste stream but can simply fit right in with a desperately needed organics stream. This model is not a pipe dream - it is happening right now in Auckland where all of our packaging can go with all food and garden waste to Envirofert, where they create huge volumes of quality compost every single week whilst enabling incredible diversions of waste from landfill.

So, you say, great plan but why use compostable packaging if you cannot compost it yet? This is an easy one, in a society that values the convenience brought by takeaway food and drink to a point that it is now viewed as irreplaceable we are a long way from ditching disposables, and other options for disposable food packaging are made from fossil fuel derived plastics such as polystyrene, these are toxic to produce and will never fully break down. When businesses choose to produce and sell, or buy these cheap products they are supporting the oil industry giants who continue to profit from the destruction of the planet. Whereas, our products are all made from plants; we use FSC and recycled paper, waste plant material such as bagasse, fast growing bamboo and latest generation Ingeo PLA, and producing these plants and processing them has demonstrably better environmental outcomes then processing oil based plastics. [7]


Innocent Packaging is committed to being world leaders in compostable packaging and this journey for us is far from over; we’re not perfect yet but we will keep improving our beautiful, functional and sustainable packaging so that businesses and consumers can work with us as we move towards zero waste and the circular economy. We are here to support others in this space - waste companies, reusable packaging schemes and all others that want to solve this crisis with us.

 

The only hope we see for solving the current waste crisis is a collaboration between industry, community leaders, and consumers; collaboration because we all have a common cause, collaboration because working together is the only way forward.

 

 

 

[1] How Ingeo is Made

[2] Colmar Brunton: Better Futures 2019 Report

[3] The Problem with Plastics

[4] National Geographic: Planet or Plastic?

[5] Household Sector Waste to Landfill in New Zealand 

[6] Field Study: Foodservice Packaging as Compost Facility Feedstock

[7] Natureworks: The Advantages of a Plastic Made From Plants, Not Oil

 

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