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Compostable Packaging: 3 Reasons Why It May Not Be As Great As It Sounds

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To many eco-conscious consumers, product packaging plays a key role in their purchasing decision-making process. They go out of their way to make a conscious effort to purchase products that have the seal of ethical sourcing, are fair trade and perhaps compost approved. They also make a conscious decision every day to throw waste in the correct bins, compost what they can, and only truly throw out what is garbage. However, did you know that buying a product based on its waste methods might not be all it’s chalked up to be?

For years, companies have been under the microscope as the call for Biodegradable, sustainable, or simply, socially responsible packaging rises. Compostable food packaging solutions are a step in the right direction, but experts have started pushing back and the reality of what actually breaks down comes to light. 

The bad news is that buying a product because it comes in compostable packaging or purchasing compostable serviceware doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better for the earth and those who live on it. Continue reading to learn about 3 reasons why compostable packaging may not be as great as it sounds. Let’s begin.


1. Compostable packaging doesn’t always… compost.

Just because a product is labelled as biodegradable, it doesn’t always mean that it completely breaks down leaving no trace of its existence behind. Often times, some of the biodegradable packaging or manufactured compostable products degrade at a slower pace, if at all, leaving solid pieces in composted soil. 

Green packaging or compostable packaging is tested via laboratory methods and conditions, which means they aren’t tested in real-world conditions that vary from one region to the next. This can cause several problems for not only the ground it touches but for those who rely on compost to nourish their crops and those who eat the food that comes from the soil it creates. This leads to our next point, contamination.


2. Contamination happens, whether we like it or not. 

As compostable products and packaging become more prevalent, the organic to manufactured compostable waste ratio gets more and more destabilized. In other words, the nutrient-rich fruit and vegetable scraps that make great quality soil for our farmers gets contaminated with less than desirable materials which are sometimes made with harmful chemicals. The issue arises in the fact that there is little long term research on how these contaminants will affect the soil and the produce that grows from it.

The environmental and human health risk is one that should be taken seriously. First, if the contaminated compost is moved to use on produce, like lettuce or corn, the chemicals will seep into the plants causing us to absorb the chemicals. Secondly, the molecules in the compostable packaging or product can be washed off with rainwater and moved into places like rivers, lakes or drainage — thus contaminating our drinking water.

Another concern is raised due to the fact not everyone takes the proper steps to ensure that all of the items they compost are indeed compostable. This can lead to several problems for not only the environment and our health but your local composting facilities. This kind of contamination makes it difficult to process the compost and ensure quality. Contaminated compost is also harder to reuse or sell to farmers hence creating more waste than originally intended. Some composting facilities have even gone as far as banning compostable packaging and servicewear.

According to Composters Serving Oregon, “we need to focus on recycling organic wastes, such as food and yard trimmings, into high-quality compost products that can be used with confidence to restore soils and conserve resources. Compostable packaging doesn’t help us to achieve these goals. We need clean feedstocks in order to produce quality compost.”


3. Composting packaging can’t surpass the benefits of recycling. 

While it may be surprising to some, recyclable items have a lower lifetime environmental footprint than producing and processing compostable packaging and serviceware. As explained by Composters Serving Oregon, “compostable materials may require more fossil energy use, release more greenhouse gases, or result in more ecological toxins than their non-compostable counterparts, mostly due to how they’re made.”

Packaging materials like paper and certain types of cardboard can be recycled up to 4-5 times giving it a new life and form over a longer period of time. On the other hand, glass can be recycled indefinitely. Recyclable packaging provides greater overall environmental benefits in comparison to disposing of semi-compostable packaging after a single-use.

While compostable packaging and serviceware might seem like a fantastic alternative but there are too many known and unknown variables that can harm humans or the environment. Reusable and recyclable packaging and serviceware is almost always a better choice for the environment. If you must use single-use items, please don’t put them in your compost bin as it can cause more harm than intended.

Why Sustainable, Environmentally-Friendly and Ethically Sourced Packaging Should Be Prioritized

In addition to environmental and human risks associated with compostable packaging and serviceware, there are other issues that are also important to note when it comes to packaging and where it is sourced. There is a dark side to buying non-sustainable and non-ethical food service packaging overseas which we explained in detail in our latest blog

There are also great benefits related to making the switch to a sustainable, ethically-sourced and North American made packaging supplier in business. In fact, we talk about the 5 ways purchasing North American foodservice packaging helps your business not too long ago in a blog post. 

Additionally, we also wrote about one of our clients, Coconut Bliss, and their new plant-based packaging alternative to the ice cream market. You can read about that and get inspired to follow their lead here

If you’re interested in switching to a more Sustainable Forestry Initiative® certified foodservice supplier, browse our online shop or contact us to see how Stanpac can benefit your business without the need to compost.

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