What Packaging Is Recyclable: We Look At Options For Compostable Food Packaging
At Waster we have really come round to the opinion that avoidance is much better than recycling when it comes to plastic – that simply not using it is so much better than any form of recycling out there. What packaging is recyclable is a really thorny question – because you need a degree in plastics and a real dedication to actually work it out, put it in the right bin etc.
The problem does not end there -because just because something is in theory “recyclable” – that of course does not mean it will be recycled in this instance. For example – we covered in our recent blog on can you recycle nappies – that indeed, plastic nappies are recyclable. The technology to recycle them exists and is proven – it just not happen in Australia currently.
This basically means that all nappies in Australia are going to landfill needlessly. That is correct – literally billions of nappies every year! And of course plastic pollution like this hurts our environment.
What packaging is recyclable? – prevention is so much better than cure
We covered in a recent blog – why recycling is a waste of time – that as a society – we basically need to stop using plastic. The negative impacts of plastic (think ocean pollution, micro plastics impacting wildlife, the fact it lives pretty much forever) far outweigh any short term convenience we get from it.
This is particularly true when you think if the thousands of small items we use from plastic such as drinking straws, plastic bags for shopping and so on.
The easiest answer to this huge problem is to stop using plastic whenever possible! See our blog on alternatives to plastic packaging.
Obviously the major issue is that we are addicted to the convenience of using plastic in everyday life – can we actually avoid it. Think about the push back on the seemingly easy tax on plastic bags in 2018 – with shop staff being abused!
Is there a solution to the what packaging is recyclable question – maybe yes – compostable food packaging!
It almost sounds too good to be true – but there is a large growth in compostable food packaging – basically what looks and feels like plastic but made from food starches – and can be disposed of in composting – i.e. whether in your garden or in an industrial composting facility. This method will see the material broken down into organic materials and hence – no actual need for recycling at all.
This sounds so good – because it means the whole plastic issue – such as the Great Pacific Garbage patch etc would never occur – or micro plastics etc.
We understand that there is a huge divergence in compostable – and biodegradable etc – and do not vouch for any of the products we mention below. We argue that this is where huge money should be spent – i.e. as collected by the ever increasing landfill levies.
We see compostable food packaging as much more sustainable than any plastic recycling programme.
Let’s check out some of the options available:
What packaging is recyclable – how about coffee cups?
We all know that current plastic coffee cups are a nightmare to recycle – as was covered on the War On Waste TV show.
There are compostable options available – such as by Pak360.
These coffee cups even have lids made from compostable corn starch – which sounds like a great idea to me. See our blog on what it takes to be a zero waste cafe.
However – there are real problems as covered by this article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
But is it really compostable?
This is a bit like our question at the start – what packaging is recyclable is not that simple.
“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.”
“What about the backyard compost heap? BioPak’s compostable products require high temperatures – 55 degrees plus – over weeks to break down, achievable only in specialised composting centres.”
Thus we see – these items are technically compostable – though that does not mean they will be “composted”.
Our understanding is that there are new varieties of these items coming on stream that are much easier to compost.
How about plastic wrappers, forks etc – what packaging is recyclable?
Biopak is a company that produces lots of varieties of “compostable” packaging – see here.
This covers items from bowls and trays made from sugarcane – to bioplastic or wooden takeaway cutlery.
Conclusion on compostable food packaging and what can be recycled:
My personal believe is that we should cease using plastics wherever possible and invest heavily in organic compostable food packaging such as sugar cane based materials. We will then need to invest further in composting facilities or organic food waste facilities where these “fake plastic” items can break down and basically rot away.
This will avoid huge issues with trying to recycle at all – which is really overvalued.
It is better to use organic compounds and let them decay naturally – and capture gases emitted for energy production etc – or use for composting.
Check out our blog here on why we should not use general waste for composting here.