The Compostable Packaging Dilemma

Contamination from plastic packaging is a huge issue for commercial food waste composting operations, as the inevitable microplastics in the end product make it undesirable for most applications. Sorting methods have certainly come a long way with recent technology, but the truth is, if plastic is introduced into the organics waste stream, it is impossible to remove it all – some fragments are just too small. We still don’t understand the full implications of microplastics in our environment but we are fast learning that it does impact our health.

Enter the compostable packaging solution…but is it really the silver bullet?

We know from experience at our food waste composting facility in Darwin, that compostable packaging does come with its own set of challenges for efficient composting, but lets put that aside for now.

Compostable packaging has created confusion.

How often have you finished a takeaway meal from your favourite food truck, only to stare blankly at the 3 bins standing before you, wondering if the laksa bowl, spoon and drink cup you are holding is landfill, recyclable, or organic (compostable). You are not alone.

We composters will tell you, if it is not carrying the AS4736 or AS5810 stamp, then it is not certified compostable and has no place in the organics bin. Of course, this is not entirely true, as I am yet to see the Australian Standard stamped onto a bamboo spoon, yet it is perfectly compostable. Unfortunately though, without this clear delineation, mistakes are often made and contamination inevitably finds its way into the organics bin and into our environment.

Cutlery is a great example.

In most cases, cutlery that is certified compostable, does not carry the Australian Standard logo. It is usually stamped on the bulk packaging that the cutlery was purchased in. If you did not buy the cutlery, you have no way of guaranteeing it is compostable. With the known risk of PFAS in compostable packaging and cutlery made from sugarcane, we lean on the Australian Standards more than ever. Products containing added PFAS are prohibited from carrying the AS4736 or AS5810 stamp but are still easily mistaken as compostable, as they may be sold under the same brand as certified compostable packaging. Now thats confusing!

Now back to our happy food truck customer with their bin dilemma.

Given that only packaging stamped with AS4736 or AS5810 can be guaranteed to be compostable, there are 2 options for our happy customer:

  1. Ask the food truck vendor if ALL their packaging is certified compostable to Australian Standards AS4736 or AS5810. Compostable cups with sneaky plastic lids and “paper” plates and boxes with plastic film coatings, need to be owned up to!
  2. Visually check each of the components of the food packaging for the logos. That means container, lids and cutlery.

If there is no confidence in the result of either of these 2 options, then the person putting their food waste into the organics bin MUST take ultimate responsibility for their actions. If in doubt, unfortunately, it needs to stay out.

About the author: Greenie Entrepreneur Eco Passive
Eco Passive is an environmental business devoted to sustainability and environmental protection. Our projects and investments are entirely focussed on this outcome and we work directly with our community to build lasting partnerships, devoted to a better environment.
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