While reducing your waste upstream should be your top priority, you’ll have to deal with the residues downstream as well.
If we want to embrace a circular economy model, this means maximising recycling and using compostable products that won’t contaminate the environment.
However, the circular system falls apart if consumers get rid of waste the wrong way. In fact, improper methods for waste disposal can have serious environmental impacts.
1. To home composting or to commercial composting? That is the question
The “100% compostable” label on a product sounds cool, right? But it doesn’t tell you the most important thing: where to compost it.
Ideally, a compostable product should have one of these 2 labels on it. So, make sure to look out for them. While the home compostable label is pretty clear, the other one doesn’t mention that you need to send the product to a commercial waste disposal site.
But what’s the difference between the two options?
Put it simply, this will depend on the product’s raw materials.
For instance, Simply Stem cutlery contains crystallised polylactic acid (CPLA). This bioplastic will break down in 4 months if treated at 65°C. However, your garden composter won’t reach that temperature so you will have to send it to a commercial composting facility. If not, it will contaminate your compost heap!
Instead, our meal box to go is made of natural pulp which will degrade within 4 months at 25°C. In other words, it’s home compostable.
Believe it or not, out of 2,000 British surveyed by the food and drink packaging company RawPac, 38% said they mistakenly threw commercially compostable packaging in their home compost bin.
How did they realise it?
Because it stayed there for ages!
2. Contamination of commercial compost
What happens when non-compostable materials sneak into the compostable waste stream?
A polluting re-route, as waste will have to be diverted from the commercial composting facility to an incineration plant.
That’s what happened in the first seven months of the UK Parliament’s collection scheme, whose compostable plastic was highly contaminated by non-compostable rubbish.
Conventional plastic is one of the main contaminants of commercial compost. After the contaminated compost is added to the soil, the plastic intruder will spread in the environment with the help of water (rain, irrigation).
Also, garden waste and other organic material might get exposed to toxic chemicals like herbicides or heavy metals. After the composting process, these contaminants still persist in the final compost. That means the contamination can carry over in the soil and kill crops.
3. Compostable packaging in the recycling bin? Not a good idea!
Let’s clarify another misconception about waste disposal jargon. Compostable doesn’t mean recyclable.
Why is this important?
Because if you throw PLA-containing cutlery in a plastic recycling bin, it will contaminate the recyclable waste. That means the whole batch will end up in landfill rather than in a recycling centre.
Is that a big issue?
Yes, as once in a landfill, both PLA and plastic will slowly release methane, whose effect on climate change is over 30 times more potent than CO2.
If you have no access to collection services for commercial composting facilities, you may dispose of compostable packaging in the general waste bin in some areas.
Disposing of incorrect disposal
As you can see, a small mistake in compostable waste disposal can cause big challenges.
Striving for clear communication and creating transparent products, Simply Stem is making consumers’ life easier. Our goal is to put an end to incorrect waste disposal of compostable packaging