The global packaging leader, Amcor, has partnered with a compostable packaging producer, TIPA, to bring compostable packaging to Australia and New Zealand. Read more
The war on waste has been building for decades, and New Zealand-founded coffee brand, Allpress Espresso, are driven in practicing sustainability and searching for viable and strategic measures that will aid in change and stop contributing to landfill. This month, Allpress will close the loop one step further, moving all of their coffee bags to compostable packaging.
From their beginnings over 30 years ago, as a little coffee cart in Auckland, New Zealand, Allpress has evolved globally with a dozen roasteries across New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Japan and the UK. Globally, the brand consistently provides coffee using the hot air roast method.
The new non-GMO bioplastic being used for the compostable packaging, has a carbon footprint 75 times less than conventional plastic. All glues, papers and inks are also non toxic, fully compostable, and lined with a biopolymer with an exceptional oxygen barrier, keeping the coffee fresh and tasting its best.
It is estimated that 500 billion takeaway coffee cups are produced globally every year, with the majority of them ending up in landfill. Allpress continues to only use compostable coffee cups, recently adding reusable cups to the product line. The introduction of Allpress compostable packing has the potential to divert more than 1,250,000 bags from landfill each year, after the introduction of the new 3kg bag into the market later this year.
Understanding that these practices are steps in the right direction and change doesn’t happen overnight, Allpress are always striving to ensure they are contributing to a more sustainable society.
“As a business, we are taking responsibility to minimise our waste and bring conscious intent to how we design our packaging. Since 2011, our takeaway coffee cups have been certified commercially compostable, organic waste from roasting coffee and our kitchens is composted, so it made sense that our coffee packaging was next in line,” said Rob Lockyear, Allpress global manager of marketing.
The new packaging, along with the brand’s coffee grinds, food scraps and takeaway cups can all be placed into compostable collection bins. Until these bins are more readily accessible, Allpress welcomes customers to bring back their packaging which will be sent to their composting partners, where the waste will be converted to soil for growing more food.
Packaging is under the spotlight, and rightly so as we progress towards achieving Australian National Packaging Targets, whereby all packaging, by 2025 should be recyclable, reusable or compostable.
So let’s have a closer look at what is meant by compostable, why it is so often confused with biodegradable and, in a packaging context, what does the consumer do with the empty package?
For compostable packaging to be utilised to its full potential, what needs to change in our waste collection steams? Now that renewable packaging is starting to gain momentum, what does bio-based add to the supply chain and why are bio-based raw materials not necessarily biodegradable?
What is compostable?
Although not many consumers have access to one, we are familiar with compost heaps. The composting process allows us to dispose of leftover foods for example to decompose and creates fertiliser for your soil. When it comes to compostable packaging however, we need to understand that backyard composts have a completely different set of physical conditions than industrial composting facilities – an important distinction.
Industrial composting can cope with a wider range of compostable products as it involves pre-processing – where materials are ground and chipped down into smaller pieces, and in addition, industrial composting provides the higher temperatures needed for more efficient break down. Home composting takes place at much lower temperatures and over an extended time frame, which can typically go up to a year, compared to a matter of weeks for industrial composting.
Compostable packaging will likely not break down in a landfill, as they lack the right conditions, especially in a modern landfill where there will be no oxygen. The only desirable waste stream for compostable packaging is an industrial compost facility.
And while not currently available in all regions of Australia, industrial composting facilities are becoming increasingly widespread with many more councils and private companies providing bins, where food scraps and garden waste can be disposed of together.
However, with a significant amount of education required to advise consumers about what can go into such bins, many council schemes do not permit packaging of any type, in case it results in a negative impact due to the wrong packaging ending up at an industrial composting facility. As the volumes of compostable packaging on the market are relatively small, the impetus to study its compatibility with council schemes is low.
What is Biodegradable?
Everything will degrade over time, but true biodegradation occurs through a biochemical process, with the aid of enzymes produced by naturally occurring microorganisms, both in the presence and absence of oxygen i.e. aerobic or anaerobic, without leaving behind any toxins, yielding only carbon dioxide, water and humus or biomass. Biodegradation is just a natural process taking its course and breaking down materials to their component parts.
Biodegradable packaging can be derived from several sources, including renewable sources – like paper or bioplastics, as well as petroleum-based plastics, which are specifically engineered, to decompose in the natural environment, which is significant at the end of life. A biodegradable plastic will be considered a contaminant in the plastics recycling stream, as on being exposed to moisture and appropriate microorganisms, the biodegradation process will commence.
So, we are clear on what is compostable and what is biodegradable, subtle but important differences when it comes to disposing of the package in the right waste stream. Now let’s not allow ‘bio-based’ to add any confusion. A package derived from a ‘bio’ source, can be designed to be compostable or biodegradable, however it is equally possible that it is not – meaning the package can be disposed of with like-packaging in a recycling stream for example.
Many different renewable ‘bio-based’ ingredients are now used as packaging inputs. Some enable compostable and biodegradable packages, whereas others produce packaging that is identical to that from fossil-based sources hence, the bio-based packaging can be recycled with like polymers. Examples are bio-polyethylene and polypropylene derived from plant based renewable feed stocks, that have properties that cannot be distinguished by the equivalent polymers derived from petrochemicals. The following summarises the two sources of plastic – fossil based and renewable, with their corresponding four attributes:
All these packaging formats are desirable – as long as the consumer has the right information and the right facilities for proper disposal. Currently whilst there are standards and guidelines from organisations such as the Australian Industrial Composting Standard (AS4736) and the Australian Organics Recycling Association, there is no universally recognised symbol for labelling consumer packaging. With the uptake of the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL), this problem could be addressed down the track.
Compostable and biodegradable packaging comes into its own where it enables food waste to be captured in the organics waste sector and this is predominantly at public events where the inputs to the waste stream can be controlled. This is likely to be the area in which we see the most growth in compostable and biodegradable packaging and provided that growth mirrors the capacity of the organics collections to handle it, that’s a positive outcome on all fronts.
|Fossil Based||Some fossil-based plastics, whilst not common in packaging, are biodegradable. Examples are polybutyrate adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and Polycaprolactone (PCL)||Conventional Plastics like HDPE, PP and PET are derived from fossil sources and whilst not biodegradable, they are recyclable.|
|Bio-based||Polylactic Acid (PLA) is an example of a Bioplastic which made from renewable sources. It is also biodegradable.||Plastics like PE, PP and PET can also be derived from renewable sources and hence are known as Bioplastics. This does not mean that they are biodegradable. However, they are recyclable with conventional plastics|
Ben Grant and Josh Kempton are leading the charge in New Zealand with their compostable flexible packaging business, Grounded , in their efforts to win the war on plastic waste.
Having recently launched, Grounded is celebrating its new-found growth, following a successful pilot program with NZ-based organic chicken company, Bostock Brothers, along with a handful of businesses in Australia.
Grounded is one of the few companies in the region to offer a range of compostable packaging options made from from bio-based materials, promising no compromise quality, or the environment.
Grounded has a complete suite of compostable, flexible packaging solutions suitable for use across numerous industries and applications, including; food production processing, fresh produce, snack foods, apparel, retail and consumer goods.
All the packaging is bio-based and certified to European or OK Compost compostability
standards for both home and industrial composting, with its look, feel and functional properties designed to mirror that of their non-compostable counterparts.
Better yet, the range is fully customisable, and includes popular and widely functional items such as stand-up pouches, snack wrappers and produce bags in various finishes, which are all fully compostable and readily branded to customer specifications.
In addition to offering custom manufacture and printing for established businesses, Grounded is about to launch a range of 100 per cent compostable stand-up pouches that will be available in smaller quantities in order to help provide a solution for a part of the market that is currently poorly served.
Quickly identifying an opportunity for flexible solutions for small companies, Grounded has already started manufacturing its own range of compostable packaging, tailored to startups and small businesses requiring more modest packaging orders.
“My co-founder, Josh brings an immense wealth of packaging industry experience, and together we are educating small, medium and large-sized businesses on smart solutions that benefit both the company and the customer as they transition to plastic-free. At the end of the day, you can’t put a price on the planet, and a positive reputation,” said Grant.
“In my experience co-owning a multi-million dollar restaurant chain (Bird on a Wire) for a number of years, you become acutely aware of the size and scale of the wake you leave throughout all parts of the supply chain. As a result, we became the first business in New Zealand to go fully compostable.”
“It was this simple transition which inspired me to create a business which has the size and
scale to support thousands of companies across Australasia in their efforts to implement circular economic processes and ultimately, help clean up our oceans.”
Grant said Grounded’s vision is for Australasia to gradually replace the use of single-use plastics throughout the supply chain of commercial production and retail environments for good.
“Whether the motivation is business, or customer demand, replacing soft plastics with
compostable flexible packaging is the future, and our team of specialists are proud to be leading by example in this market and supporting companies through the process,” he said.
Biodegradable and compostable packaging are not interchangeable. Dr Carol Kilcullen-Lawrence, the national president of the Australia Institute of Packaging (AIP) explains why.
Compostable and biodegradable – two terms that are often used interchangeably, but in reality actually mean very different things.
In light of the recent Australian Environment Ministers announcement that 100 per cent of packaging in Australia will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 we need to better understand how we can really achieve this and how different this target is compared to the packaging waste streams that are in place today.
The first step is to understand the difference between compostable and biodegradable packaging.
Everything will degrade over time but true biodegradation occurs through a biochemical process, with the aid of enzymes produced by naturally occurring microorganisms, both in the presence and absence of oxygen i.e. aerobic or anaerobic, without leaving behind any toxins, yielding only carbon dioxide, water and humus or biomass.
Biodegradable packaging is either completely or partially derived from a renewable source – like paper or starch – or, if it is petroleum based, is specifically engineered with the aid of additives, to decompose in the natural environment. Such additives change the chemical composition of the plastic.
While this does not affect its manufacturing, use or shelf life, such that it differs functionally from other plastics, it is significant at the end of life.
A biodegradable plastic will be considered a contaminant in the plastics recycling stream, as on being exposed to moisture and appropriate microorganisms, the biodegradation process will commence.
Compostable packaging has an organic origin, like sugar cane, bamboo or paper, and can broadly be classified into two types:
1. one that which will compost in a home compost; and
2. one that requires an industrial compost facility.
Industrial composting can cope with a wider range of compostable products as it involves pre-processing – where materials are ground and chipped down into smaller pieces, and in addition, industrial composting provides the higher temperatures needed for more efficient break down.
Home composting takes place at much lower temperatures and over an extended time frame, which can typically go up to a year, compared to a matter of weeks for industrial composting. And what people and organisations need to realise is that there is a different set of standards for materials suitable for home composting, which is governed by Vincotte a Belgium-based certification organisation.
While not currently available in all regions of Australia, industrial composting facilities are becoming increasingly widespread with many more councils and private companies providing bins where food scraps and compostable packaging can be disposed of within existing green waste collection services.
Known as FOGO, participating councils are considering potentially reducing landfill collections to fortnightly, allowing FOGO collections to become weekly. However, most councils also know that there will need to be significant consumer education to ensure the right types of compostable and biodegradable packaging are disposed of in such services.
One of the ideal situations to utilise compostable and biodegradable packaging is at public events where the inputs to the waste stream can be controlled by those at the arenas.
In such situations if all food packaging is manufactured from compostable organic sources and biodegradable plastics, then disposal facilities that capture this with the food waste will allow the packaging to be industrially composted together.
This is an ideal solution as many types of biodegradable and compostable packaging cannot be recycled, hence cannot be placed in kerbside recycling. It would be impossible for a consumer to identify the difference between a biodegradable PLA plastic container with a visually identical petroleum-based polymer one.
The move to biodegradable or compostable packaging is real, and with a 2025 target, now is the time to identify not only the most suitable sustainable solutions to suit each product, but to also ensure that the packaging waste streams have the capabilities to manage this change.