Compostable bags take a different track to Sustainability
All organic matter will eventually biodegrade including plastic made from fossil fuels. However, the time-frames organic matter biodegrades varies on an exponential scale. The term biodegradable is essentially meaningless without being tied to a specified time-scale and environment. This is a major reason the term “biodegradable” is often misused/ causes confusion in the marketplace.
The term compostable however is much more clearly defined. Compostable bags are biodegradable (ie they breakdown into natural elements with the help of micro-organisms) within the conditions and time-frames specified in known composting standards. Most notable are the compostable material standards EU 13432 and ASTM D6400.
A circular economy takes waste from one process and uses it as the new inputs for new products. One route to circularity are the “re” options as outlined in a previous post. Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Remanufacture and Recycle are all means of keeping material in the economy and avoiding incineration or landfill disposal.
The other avenue to circularity is if at the end of life, the material itself can be harvested and serve as biological nutrients for making or growing new products. At the end of their useful life, compostable materials can be disposed of in composting facilities and turn into 100% pure compost months later ready to be used to grow new life. Compostable materials can follow the same waste steams as all organic material: leftover food, leaves, sticks, grass, pine cones, limbs etc.
Why is this important? Governments, businesses, educators, foundations and environmentally concerned people are searching for solutions to the global waste problem. Compostable packaging is one potential solution. Below is evidence of a movement already underway.
- The United Kingdom has put in place a “Plastic Pact” that seeks to transform 100% of plastic packaging within the UK to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
- Boulder Colorado Zero Waste Plan includes expanding composting opportunities to all residents and businesses. This includes public bins for recycling, landfill and composting.
- The Ellen Macarthur Foundation is a leading voice in the circular, sustainable movement. Their foundation report “The New Plastics Economy: Re-Thinking the Future of Plastics states the need to “Scale up the use of industrially compostable plastics for targeted applications” as a method for a more sustainable future.
- In May 2018, a “plastic-free” logo was introduced as an indicator of packaging without plastic.
- Certified Compostable bags are plastic-free.
- In Feb 2018, the world’s first plastic-free supermarket “lab” opened in Amsterdam, Netherlands to bring attention to the issue. Many bags within the supermarket are compostable. Ekoplaza supermarkets have plastic free aisles to continue the push towards eliminating plastics. Certified Compostable bags are plastic-free.
- The city of Boise Idaho is collecting organic waste in a separate waste stream meant to be composted.
- “The Soil-to-Soil Cycle” is a core belief of the organization “A Plastic Planet”. Compostable film fits the circular economy model.
What are the road blocks to compostable packaging becoming more prevalent?
- The domestic infrastructure needed to support a large scale organic waste stream is not yet in place. Compostable bags at this time will likely wind up in landfills until an organic waste stream is in place.
- Compostable materials are not well known. Differentiation between normal plastic and compostable materials is not easy. Without indicators and education, these two different materials can wind up contaminating each other’s waste streams.
- Compostable materials are higher priced than traditional plastic.
- Up until recently, the machinability of compostable films did not allow for an equivalent package look and performance versus regular plastic.
- Domestic demand for compostable materials at this time is less than in Europe and in other areas of the world.
As seen in Europe, these roadblocks could be removed into the future. If policy-makers begin to make more of a stand against plastic in the environment beyond single use bags, alternative packaging like compostable bags will be needed. If plastic-free aisles in supermarkets as seen in Europe (like “all organic” aisles now in place) begin to take hold in the U.S, the consumer will become more educated about compostable materials and the demand will increase. As more companies turn to compostable packaging material, the supply will go up over time and the price for the film will come down. Cities and communities can and some already have begun to develop an organic waste stream where organic materials (including compostable bags) are collected separately and routed to compostable facilities.
To drive toward a more circular economy, Clear View Bag will begin stocking 002 mil FDA approved compostable material in late fall of 2018. By making the film available to manufacture custom compostable bags in low volumes, we hope to push the packaging economy in an increasingly sustainable direction. The unique compostable material is very similar to the aesthetic and mechanical properties of conventional plastics including
- Seal strength
- Shelf life
We have trialed the material and can convert the material into most bag constructions including
- Zipper bags (zipper profile is certified compostable)
- Hanghole and Vents
- Headers and Dicuts
- Lip and Tape
- Prints (limited in ink colors available at this time)
Samples of the material are available upon request.
Thanks for reading.