As we all know, the problem with plastic is that it doesn’t go away. It’s designed to be permanent, and it has its uses because of this. It’s durable, light, and cheap. But over 33% of plastic is produced for single-use. It’s thrown away and either ends up in landfills [1] or in the oceans, leaching toxins, contaminating groundwater, killing wildlife, and entering the food chain.

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Researchers estimate that around 12 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year. That’s equivalent to the weight of a million London buses. Here at Countrystyle, we had some trouble imagining what a million London buses look like, so we did some maths: One London bus is around 14 metres long. If they were to all come along at once, that’s a line of Routemaster buses about 9,000 miles long, stretching from the United Kingdom to Australia, or thereabouts.

It’s no wonder that consumers are becoming more and more resistant to purchasing products made of or packaged in plastic. A global study carried out in 2019[2] found that 82% of consumer respondents were aware of the harm caused by plastic waste and were already taking practical steps to combat plastic pollution. And globally, more businesses are making commitments to reduce plastic production and to prioritise recycling and reuse, which has resulted in the increased use of biodegradable and compostable plastics for product manufacture and packaging. 

At Countrystyle Recycling, we know that developments in recycling and waste management are fast-paced (they need to be) and understand that rapid change can often cause confusion and uncertainty for consumers. We’re often asked about the benefits and advantages of compostable packaging and how it differs from biodegradable plastic and packaging materials, so we decided to provide the following Q&As:  

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What does compostable mean?

Compostable products are strictly regulated and controlled by EU and UK standard EN 13432. This requires that, when recycled, at least 90% of the product disintegrates within 12 weeks and can be converted to carbon dioxide within 6 months if subjected to industrial conditions. The remaining 10% of the product must be capable of use in the manufacture of viable fertilizers. 

Standard EN 13432 also requires that the process of compostable recycling leaves nothing harmful (such as toxins or microplastics) behind.

Although all products made of organic carbon materials will eventually decompose and biodegrade if subjected to the right conditions, only products satisfying the EN 13432 recycling criteria can be labelled and sold as compostable. 

How do I know if a product is compostable?

Products certified as satisfying Standard EN 13432 will bear the Seedling logo:

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Is compostable the same as biodegradable?

No. Unless a product is certified and labelled as compostable there is no guarantee that it will not produce harmful toxins as it decomposes. Also, certified compostable products are guaranteed to decompose quickly under specified industrial conditions. Products labelled only as biodegradable have no fixed timeframe within which to break down.

What are compostable plastics made of?

Instead of using plastics produced from petrochemicals and fossils fuels, compostable plastics are manufactured from renewable materials such as corn, potato, tapioca starches, cellulose, soy protein, and lactic acid.  Compostable plastics are non-toxic and decompose back into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass when composted.  

Can I put compostable products and packaging in my home compost bin?

Products certified as compostable under Standard EN 13432 will only biodegrade quickly and completely if recycled at an industrial composting facility. There is no guarantee that products such as compostable cups will break down in your home compost heap. Some may do but could take a long time to do so – a year or more. The exception to this is compostable caddy liners or other thin-film bioplastics (made from corn or potato starch).

How do I dispose of compostable products for recycling?  

Compostable plastics are relatively new and therefore most local authority domestic recycling schemes are not yet set up to process them for recycling. At the moment, putting compostable products in your mixed recycling bin might contaminate local authority waste recycling systems. Unfortunately, the only current viable option for disposing of compostable waste from home is to put it in your general waste bin.  

The government is currently consulting on reforms for domestic waste collection which should ensure that compostable household waste can be recycled appropriately at industrial composting facilities. We will provide regular updates about the government consultation and any developments relating to the disposal of household waste for recycling. 

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The future of compostable plastics and packaging

At present, compostable plastics do have an important role to play in the fight against climate change, particularly in the foodservice industry and at large events such as festivals, where the disposal of waste can easily be coordinated. As leaders and innovators in the waste management industry, Countrystyle Recycling is committed to ensuring that the benefits of compostable plastics to the environment are fully exploited in the future. For example, we recently teamed up with Cambridge Business Improvement District and our sister company Envar Composting Ltd is an initiative to increase the use and recycling of compostable products in the Cambridge city area,  We believe that initiatives such as this will help to quickly establish compostable products as an important and valuable component in both domestic and commercial recycling systems. 

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Countrystyle Recycling and its sister companies are making HUGE steps in the compostable sector and are collecting and processing this waste NOW through the following:

  • Local and replicable pilot schemes in City areas to collect used compostable food packaging direct from food outlets using our customised bins and waste collection lorries
  • Our sister company Envar are now receiving an increasing amount used compostable packaging suppliers, their waste collectors including Countrystyle and also directly from end customers such as food outlets and other retail companies, from which they process this material through In-Vessel Composting and Open Windrow technologies to produce high-quality compost
  • Envar are part of a UKRI funded consortium project with compostable packaging suppliers, collectors and users plus Councils, Universities to evidence the success and scalability of the processing of these materials, commencing Mar 22
  • Envar is also providing trialling services for compostable packaging innovators to test how the material breaks down in lab conditions ahead of moving into commercial-scale composting in order to assist new entrants into this market

Discover how we can help your business recycle more sustainably by providing compostable waste collections.

Read more:
https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/08/five-things-to-know-about-biodegradable-and-compostable-plastics/

[1] Only around 8% of plastic waste in the U.S.A. is recycled.

[2] https://www.consumersinternational.org/what-we-do/sustainable-consumption/the-future-of-plastic/

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