A composting bin

Can I put compostable packaging in my compost bin?


It's complicated, whether you can put compostable packaging into your composting bin, so read on!

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Get the right balance of brown and green composting materials in your bin with our expert guide.

Can We Compost Compostable Packaging Materials?

What Are Compostable Packaging Materials?

Compostable packaging materials are designed to break down completely into natural elements in a compost environment, leaving no toxic residue behind. These eco-friendly packaging options are typically made from plant-based materials such as cornstarch, sugarcane fibers, or other renewable resources. Unlike traditional plastic packaging that can take hundreds of years to decompose, compostable packaging biodegrades within a matter of months under the right conditions. To learn more about the composting process, check out our Master the Green-brown mix ebook.

Some common examples of compostable packaging materials include:

  • Compostable bags
  • Compostable utensils
  • Compostable coffee cups
  • Compostable straws
  • Compostable plates and bowls
  • Compostable takeout containers
  • Compostable mailers

These sustainable packaging alternatives offer a greener solution for businesses and consumers looking to reduce their environmental impact and minimize packaging waste.

Benefits of Using Compostable Packaging

Choosing compostable packaging over traditional plastic packaging offers several key benefits:

  1. Reduces plastic waste pollution: Compostable packaging materials break down naturally, preventing them from accumulating in landfills or polluting ecosystems like oceans and rivers.
  2. Made from renewable resources: Most compostable packaging is derived from plant-based sources rather than fossil fuels, making them a more sustainable option.
  3. Suitable for food residue: Compostable packaging is ideal for items with food residue, as it can be composted together without the need for separation.
  4. Helps divert waste from landfills: By composting these materials, we can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and create nutrient-rich compost for gardening and agriculture.

Composting Compostable Packaging: Home vs. Industrial

It's important to note that not all compostable packaging materials are suitable for home composting. Some require the high temperatures and controlled conditions of industrial composting facilities to break down efficiently.

Home Composting

To compost packaging materials at home, look for products that are certified as "home compostable." These items will break down in a backyard compost bin or pile within a reasonable timeframe, typically around 180 days. When home composting, be sure to:

  • Shred the packaging into smaller pieces to speed up decomposition
  • Mix the packaging with a balanced ratio of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) organic materials
  • Keep the compost moist but not soggy
  • Turn the compost regularly to aerate and distribute heat evenly

Industrial Composting

Many compostable packaging materials are designed for industrial composting, which occurs at facilities that maintain higher temperatures (50-60°C) and have more control over moisture levels and aeration. These conditions accelerate the breakdown process, allowing for a wider range of compostable materials to be processed. You can find a list of industrial composting facilities in the United States on the BioCycle Magazine website.

If a package is labeled as "compostable" without specifying home composting, it likely requires industrial composting. Do not place these items in your home compost bin or yard waste collection, as they will not break down properly and may contaminate the compost.

Compostable vs. Biodegradable Packaging

While the terms "compostable" and "biodegradable" are often used interchangeably, they have distinct meanings. Biodegradable simply means that a material can break down into smaller pieces by natural processes, but it does not specify the timeframe or end products of this breakdown. Some biodegradable plastics may take years to decompose and can leave behind microplastics or toxic residues.

Compostable packaging, on the other hand, must meet strict standards set by certification bodies like the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) in the United States or the European Bioplastics Association. These certifications ensure that the packaging will break down completely into non-toxic components within a specified timeframe under controlled composting conditions.

Proper Disposal of Compostable Packaging

To ensure that compostable packaging materials break down effectively and don't end up in landfills or recycling streams, it's crucial to dispose of them correctly:

  • Check for home composting certification if you plan to compost the packaging yourself
  • If the packaging is only suitable for industrial composting, find a local facility that accepts these materials
  • Do not place compostable packaging in your recycling bin, as it can contaminate the recycling process
  • When in doubt, check with your local waste management authority for guidance on proper disposal

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I put compostable packaging in my curbside organics bin?

It depends on your local waste management guidelines. Some curbside organics programs only accept food scraps and yard waste, while others may allow certain types of compostable packaging. Always check with your local authority before placing compostable packaging in your organics bin.

2. How long does it take for compostable packaging to break down?

The decomposition time for compostable packaging varies depending on the material and composting conditions. In an industrial composting facility, most compostable packaging will break down within 90-180 days. Home composting may take longer, typically around 180 days to a year. A compost thermometer can help you monitor the temperature and ensure optimal conditions for decomposition.

3. Are compostable plastics better than traditional plastics?

Compostable plastics offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics, as they are made from renewable resources and can break down completely in the right composting conditions. However, they still require energy and resources to produce and may generate some greenhouse gas emissions during decomposition. Reducing overall packaging consumption and reusing materials when possible are still the most environmentally friendly options.

4. Can I compost compostable packaging in my countertop food cycler?

No, compostable packaging should not be placed in countertop food cyclers like the Lomi. These devices are designed to process food scraps only and do not reach the necessary temperatures or provide the microbial activity required to break down compostable packaging materials effectively.

By understanding the properties and disposal requirements of compostable packaging materials, we can make more informed choices about the products we use and how we dispose of them. Choosing certified compostable packaging and ensuring proper end-of-life management can help reduce waste, conserve resources, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

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