The 8 Necessary Guides to Compostable Packaging 

The commitment to minimize environmental impact is a top priority for countless businesses, irrespective of their size. Implementing well-designed and sustainable packaging stands out as a noteworthy approach to diminish one's carbon footprint. Within the realm of eco-friendly packaging materials, compostable packaging emerges as a frequently sought-after solution.

At first glance, the concept of compostable packaging seems commendable. However, it is imperative to grasp the definition of compostable packaging, discern its distinctions from other sustainable packing materials, and acknowledge the variability within the category itself.

This article delves into the subject of compostable packaging, exploring its merits and drawbacks while elucidating its role in mitigating businesses' environmental footprint.
1. Defining Compostable Packaging
Compostable packaging refers to a category of packaging material designed for responsible disposal, aligning with the principles of a circular economy. Products classified as compostable are crafted from materials that undergo complete decomposition into compost without releasing toxic residues during the breakdown process. Compliance with specific criteria outlined in the European Standard EN 13432, titled "Packaging: Requirements for Packaging Recoverable Through Composting and Biodegradation," is essential for packaging materials to be deemed compostable. These criteria encompass disintegration, biodegradability, absence of adverse effects on the composting process, low levels of heavy metals/toxicity, and impact on compost characteristics.

2. Distinction between Home Compostable and Industrially Compostable Packaging
Clear labeling plays a pivotal role in distinguishing between home compostable and industrially compostable packaging. Both types adhere to distinct standards and merit distinctive labeling, ensuring proper disposal practices. The Unboxing Survey highlights the importance of clear labels, especially as 11% of consumers remain uncertain about the proper disposal of received packaging. Notably, most compostable packaging is geared toward industrial composting, with a significant portion unsuitable for home composting.

3. Distinguishing Compostable from Biodegradable Packaging

A prevalent misconception revolves around the interchangeability of compostable and biodegradable packaging. Contrary to this belief, they are not synonymous. Biodegradable denotes the capability of a material to decompose over time with the assistance of bacteria or living organisms. However, this process may take thousands of years, and specific conditions are required, potentially leading to harmful greenhouse gas emissions in landfills. In contrast, compostable products disintegrate without harming the environment, transforming into enriching compost. Adherence to the requirements outlined in the BS EN 13432 certification scheme is crucial for a material to be classified as compostable.

4. Environmental Impact Reduction through Compostable Packaging
To comprehend how packaging can diminish a business's environmental impact, various factors must be considered, including its role in the circular economy, recyclability, and associated benefits and challenges:

5. Compostable Packaging and the Circular Economy
Compostable packaging is viewed as a positive step within the packaging and environmental context, but it remains primarily single-use. The Ellen MacArthur foundation characterizes the composting ability of packaging materials as "nature's recycling," emphasizing the strategic application of compostable packaging for success in building a circular economy. Nevertheless, long-term success necessitates infrastructure development to support organic material collection and repurposing.

6. Recyclability of Compostable Packaging
The recyclability of compostable packaging depends on the specific material in use. While materials like cardboard, categorized as compostable and biodegradable, can be recycled, compostable plastics are not suitable for mixed recycling bins. Most UK recycling plants lack the capability to process compostable plastics, leading to potential contamination if incorrectly disposed of in mixed recycling. Home-compostable packaging, on the other hand, can be disposed of in home compost bins.

7. Benefits of Compostable Packaging
Transitioning to compostable packaging yields benefits such as a reduced environmental impact, faster decomposition in landfills without harmful by-products, enhanced soil quality, and fewer resources required for production. Additionally, it can contribute to an improved brand image, showcasing a company's environmental responsibility, provided it is used appropriately and labeled accurately.

8. Challenges of Compostable Packaging
Despite its advantages, compostable packaging poses challenges. Not all packaging labeled as "compostable" is suitable for home composting, necessitating careful adherence to disposal instructions to prevent cross-contamination. Compostable plastics, in particular, cannot be placed in recycling bins, and the limited facilities capable of processing them in the UK often lead to their disposal in general waste bins. The cost of compostable packaging is another consideration, although with growing demand, there is potential for cost reduction.

In Conclusion:
As businesses weigh the adoption of compostable packaging, critical decisions must be made considering its compatibility with their overall packaging strategy. Assessing the trade-off between compostable packaging, material reduction, and reusable packaging options is vital. Additionally, the environmental implications of plant-based bioplastics should be thoroughly examined, considering factors such as land use, agriculture, and transport.

Exciting innovations in compostable packaging, like the Earth Shot prize-winning Seaweed Packaging, showcase the evolving landscape of sustainable solutions. Although currently more applicable to primary packaging, ongoing developments suggest potential applications for viable secondary packaging solutions.

In summary, understanding the nuances of compostable packaging, its distinctions from other environmentally friendly options, and its real-world implications is crucial for businesses committed to making informed choices in their sustainability journey.