Can Plastic Be Composted In Australia: We Look At Bottles, Coffee Cups, Plastic Bags?
In many recent blogs – we have covered the ongoing and worsening plastic waste crisis that is affecting Australia and pretty much the entire world. We have come round to the opinion – that plastic usage has to be hugely reduced – if not stopped altogether (for example – it has been pointed out that some people require plastic drinking straws for medical needs etc). In today’s blog – we look at biodegradable plastic alternatives and ask can plastic be composted in reality in Australia in 2019 – or is it an oversold long term vision?
One thing is for sure – there is a lot of interest in biodegradable and compostable alternatives to conventional plastics.
We work with many cafes and other food service businesses – who would really love to provide their customers a more environmentally friendly take away coffee cup option – as we do not think Aussies will relax enough to actually sit down with their morning coffee anytime soon!
Check out our infographic on how cafes can easily boost recycling and save money here.
Who is Waster?
Waster works with small and medium Aussie businesses – to supply reliable, cost effective and environmentally focused recycling and waste management services.
We work hard to provide all available recycling options – to even the smallest customer. Helping them boost recycling and save money.
Find out more and check waste collection prices by hitting the blue buttons at the top or bottom of this page.
Can plastic be composted? – The dream of an alternative to the plastic nightmare.
We hope at this stage – that the nightmare caused by waste plastic (and the fact it lives pretty much forever) is well understood. We have argued in previous blogs that the damage it causes to wildlife – see Great Pacific Garbage Patch – and the lack of any real or sustainable “recycling” option for the majority of global plastic waste – means that reducing of banning its use is vital.
In this environment – the concept of compostable plastic alternatives sounds almost too good to be true – i.e. offering all the benefits of plastic (and there are lots) and none of the negatives.
There are lots of questions re classification and the difference between biodegradable vs compostable plastic bags and containers (an accurate compostable plastic definition) for example. Are the items what the are cracked up to be?
The dream scenario is that the compostable plastic film, or even compostable plastic bottles would just break down into organic elements and nourish the soil like any food waste.
Of course this vision is appealing – we just want to see how true it is in 2019.
The current view on can plastic be composted
Put simply the answer is no – only certain plastic alternatives can be composted – and the details vary by product and region. These products are referred to as bio-plastics.
There has been lots of confusion and mixed signals re what really is compostable – and if there are actually facilities available. For example – the ABC covered how Darwin council was banning usage of single use plastics on council land – and encouraging compostable coffee cups – but it was then pointed out that there are actually no commercial composting facilities in the entire Northern Territory!
This means everything ends up in landfill anyway! Can plastic be composted is a yes but…. answer it seems. See our blog on bubble wrap.
We thus end up with the worst outcome – businesses pay more for compostable coffee cups – and then it ends up in landfill anyway.
The major problem – a lack of facilities available for commercial composting
Whilst the products often can be composted – the big issue is that there are no facilities available.
In 2017 – The Sydney Morning Herald reported that most Biopak containers still end up in landfill (can plastic be composted):
“BioPak is one of several packaging companies to launch in Australia in the past 20 years, catering to environment conscious consumers. They sell about 20 million bioplastic coffee cups and sugarcane-pulp fast-food trays a month.”
“But while bioplastic can be recycled, no recycling facilities in Australia have the technology to do so. Unless the products make it to a composting facility, they are destined for landfill. And there are only nine commercial composting facilities that accept BioPak in Australia – none of them in Victoria.”
“The company’s coffee cups, which are made of paper coated with bioplastic, can technically be recycled. But many commercial facilities refuse to do so because of fears they will contaminate the recycling stream – fears BioPak says are unfounded. Technology can be installed allowing plants to separate the plastic and paper, but it is expensive and few plants in Australia have it.”
“Only seven councils in Victoria will recycle BioPak’s cups, none of them in inner Melbourne.”
Why is commercial composting required – how does compostable plastic work?
It would be great if these items (all compostable plastic food containers) could break down in your garden compost – but that is not the case.
“BioPak’s compostable products require high temperatures – 55 degrees plus – over weeks to break down, achievable only in specialised composting centres.”
This means that we can only use one of the 9 facilities (as at 2017) available. There were no facilities in Tasmania, Victoria or the NT accepting these items – and only one in WA.
The major facility in Sydney metro was the SUEZ Kemps Creek facility.
Collecting bioplastics is also difficult:
As only a few facilities actually accept the bioplastics – you need to arrange services with specific companies who run trucks to those facilities – and the may not cover the entire city.
Conclusion on can plastic be composted in Australia
In simple terms – some bioplastic can be composted in specific composting facilities throughout Australia.
In many ways we are putting the cart before the horse – i.e. bioplastic can not be recycled or composted in the vast majority of areas in Australia. For example – there were only 9 suitable facilities up and running in 2017.
We need to focus lots of effort and money on building facilities capable of this composting before we really roll out the cups etc.
But as always – the big question is who is going to pay for it?
It should also be noted that composting facilities smell pretty bad – i.e. due to decaying matter. It is not exactly easy to build these facilities in easily accessible locations. Would you want one next to your house? For example – the SUEZ Kemps Creek facility was fined by the EPA for the odours being emitted!
So truly compostable plastic bottles and compostable plastic cups may still be a bit away. Check out our blog on whether drones can clean the ocean.
Check out our blog here arguing that we should not use compost made from red bin waste collections.