Design for Sustainability: Understanding Compostable Plastic Packaging


These options sound nice in precept – nevertheless, in follow, the answer will not be so simple, with many now recognising that improper use of compostable plastic packaging may do extra hurt than good. As Lee Metters, Group Enterprise Improvement Director, Domino Printing Sciences (Domino), explains. 

The problem of compostable plastics

A main concern with compostable plastic is disposal – if a shopper incorrectly disposes of a compostable plastic container in a recycling bin, it will possibly contaminate the recyclable waste round it. This contamination could adversely have an effect on waste restoration and recycling programs, which have advanced to handle widespread packaging supplies. Introducing new supplies will be problematic. 

Certainly, Supplies Restoration Services have been designed to segregate and deal with supplies that we worth and supplies that councils wish to recycle – akin to PET, aluminium, metal, glass, and card. When new supplies are launched, there is no such thing as a assure that they may movement as they should, or they could inhibit the power of the system to seize current goal supplies.

Only a small quantity of compostable materials can contaminate commonplace plastic recycling streams, resulting in the waste of huge portions of recyclable materials. Given these points, in January 2020, WRAP printed new steering supplies to assist companies make knowledgeable decisions when contemplating using compostable packaging. 

“Companies have to be clear on when it’s viable [to use compostable plastics], given the complexities surrounding present remedy infrastructure,” Helen Fowl, Useful resource Administration Specialist at WRAP, mentioned. “It’s crucial that finish markets for recycled plastics should not compromised; individuals want clear instruction to not place compostable plastics within the recycling bin.”

What ought to be compostable?

The important thing to the profitable use of compostables is discovering areas the place assortment and recycling of single-use plastics is problematic and the place compostable supplies may assist to divert meals waste from landfills. 

For instance, hard-to-recycle, closely food-contaminated objects don’t at the moment have a really perfect waste stream for disposal. Such objects may cause points when positioned in conventional recycling streams and may contribute to methane emissions attributable to the anaerobic breakdown of residual meals waste if despatched to landfill. 

This latter level is vital to any dialogue surrounding compostables – as methane emissions from landfill are a big contributor to world greenhouse fuel emissions, with governments worldwide committing to the introduction of necessary family meals waste collections in a bid to curb this. 

Upcoming rules embrace: 

    • European Directive (EU) 2018/851 – this directive mandates the introduction of separate assortment of meals waste as of 1st January 2024 throughout the EU 
  • UK Authorities Assets and Waste Technique – this technique pledges the introduction of separate collections for family meals waste within the UK by 2023

Because the situations beneath define, these upcoming rules current a substantial alternative for compostable plastic packaging when used accurately. 

  1. Closely dirty pots, tubs, and trays

One of the cited situations the place compostable packaging may are available in helpful is with meals contact packaging, the place the product is closely contaminated by meals waste and tough for customers to scrub – akin to microwavable prepared meal trays. 

As a substitute, a compostable microwavable tray may very well be positioned right into a meals waste bin in areas the place industrial composting services exist or, relying on the fabric, into a house composter. Any leftover meals throughout the tray would then grow to be compost slightly than meals waste despatched to landfill. This could additionally scale back the variety of trays being despatched to landfill and enhance the standard of recyclables by holding contaminated merchandise out of recycling bins.

  1. Versatile meals contact packaging

Versatile plastic wrap is a well-liked characteristic in meals and beverage functions in every thing from single-serve condiment sachets to prepacked, ready-made salads and comfort pouches. Nevertheless, these supplies will be difficult – and dear – from a recycling perspective, as they’ll stick collectively and get tangled with different recyclables.

Compostable plastics may have a task to play right here – particularly the place merchandise are contaminated with meals, as within the case of single-serve sachets. In such a situation, compostable packaging and any leftovers may very well be disposed of collectively right into a meals waste bin for assortment and remedy.

  1. Gadgets destined for the compost pile

Sure objects repeatedly find yourself in residence compost, or natural waste assortment, regardless of containing standard, non-compostable plastic. Such objects embrace tea luggage, which many customers incorrectly assume to be totally compostable, and fruit and vegetable stickers usually disposed of alongside fruit and vegetable peelings. 

In these cases, the place standard plastics repeatedly find yourself in natural waste, it is smart to change to compostable alternate options to enhance the standard of the ultimate compost. Curiously, WRAP highlights teabags as one of many solely areas the place compostable plastic packaging ought to at all times be used rather than conventional plastics as a result of they’re repeatedly positioned throughout the natural waste assortment. 

Get the labelling proper

Making certain shopper consciousness of appropriate disposal strategies is of the utmost significance when contemplating using compostable plastic options. Producers utilizing compostable plastics ought to make sure that all objects are clearly labelled to keep away from the danger of compostable supplies being disposed of inappropriately and contaminating the pure surroundings or standard plastic recycling programs. 

Concerns ought to keep in mind the variations in regional recycling programs – for instance, when utilizing industrially compostable supplies, manufacturers ought to advise the best way to eliminate an merchandise within the absence of an industrial composting facility. 

WRAP advises that producers contemplate labelling which informs customers how objects ought to be disposed of, slightly than utilizing statements, akin to ‘100% compostable’, with out disposal info. 

The place on-pack house is at a premium, info may very well be included inside a 2D code, akin to a QR or Knowledge Matrix code, to offer simply accessible info to customers through a smartphone or pill. The great thing about utilizing a 2D code for functions akin to that is {that a} model will not be restricted within the quantity of knowledge it will possibly present. 

Requirements akin to GS1 Digital Hyperlink, may very well be utilised to establish a shopper’s location and supply personalised info primarily based on their regional recycling capabilities – doubtlessly even linking to the closest obtainable recycling level. As well as, manufacturers can use product coding and marking to help within the identification of packaging sorts at recycling centres and permit for the removing of compostable materials that has ended up in plastic recycling. Tasks supporting such initiatives embrace Holy Grail 2.0 which utilises digital watermarking for product identification.


Compostable supplies are an thrilling new improvement within the packaging market. Nevertheless, as with all swap in supplies, using compostable plastic packaging requires cautious consideration. As well as, any model contemplating a swap in packaging options ought to enlist accountable and skilled provide chain and manufacturing companions to minimise the danger of change. 

All manufacturers ought to companion with an skilled coding and marking supplier who can assist sustainability design with coding options for compostable plastics, advise on acceptable labelling decisions, and assist guarantee merchandise might be accepted by retailers, valued by customers, and trusted by everybody with an environmental concern.


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