Bioplastics And Compostable Packaging: Do They Really Work?

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021
Composting food waste

Bioplastics and compostable packaging sound great for both business owners and consumers! What better way to enjoy your favorite food and beverages than in sustainable containers? Unfortunately, the reality of these is not what many think it is.

The problems with compostable containers and packaging

As of 2016, there were at least 198 cities across the country that practiced municipal composting, according to Governing.com. That’s not a lot! It is difficult for cities to get on board with composting because it does take a costly initial investment. In many areas, the populous simply doesn’t seem to care. Even in areas where composting is a priority, bioplastics and compostable packaging are still put in landfills.

Both of these products require a lot of time to be composted properly. Some parts of the packaging are only accepted by industrial facilities, too, and only if they want to spend the time and resources to compost them. Many of the materials used are known to pollute the rest of the mixture. Bioplastics can even contain chemicals that are known to cause cancer, which raises the question, “Should it even be used at all?”

The answer to that question is “Yes!” if it is done correctly. Many in the industry are turning to different (and safer) materials. Some are even focusing on reusable containers rather than one-time-use packaging. Besides getting more cities across the U.S. to compost, this is a good start!

The process of composting bioplastics and compostable packaging

When it comes to these products, proper methods must be used to ensure they are composted the right way. It starts in the processing facility. Once materials are collected, they must be sorted. Because bioplastics and green packaging can be difficult to distinguish from other materials it takes a keen eye and testing.

Unfortunately, that testing often doesn’t translate into the real world. The methods used are not the same as the actual composting process. To make things more complicated, some plastics that are certified as “biodegradable” aren’t and some that aren’t will degrade. The best way to get around this is when the composting facility itself conducts the testing. Here are some examples of different materials that can be composted.

  1. Compostable plastic bags: When these first came out, there were issues with composting them. Now, these bags are used to collect organic waste and can be composted with few issues. The process DOES depend on how thick the bioplastic is, though.
  2. Polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT): This is a biodegradable material made from polymer that is sometimes mixed with PLA. It is not completely renewable, as it is partially created using petrochemicals.
  3. Polylactic acid (PLA): This biopolymer is both compostable and recyclable. When composted, the material turns into carbon dioxide, water, and humus (not the food kind). Although it can be composted at home, many industrial facilities don’t accept it due to time constraints.
  4. Utensils: Unfortunately, even if the product says it is biodegradable, composting facilities can’t actually degrade plastic cutlery. They are simply too thick.

Why industrial composting works so well

Testing can be done at industrial operation to ensure bioplastics and compostable packaging can degrade. But, this isn’t the only reason these places are so successful. Here are just a few examples of why industrial composting can benefit almost any city.

  • These operations use special machinery to get the job done. Compost turners are the only thing that can handle the massive amount of materials brought in. This is true whether they are stand-alone machines or self-propelled equipment.
  • The machines are usually built to last many years.
  • Industrial facilities have more time and resources to process materials, including bioplastics and compostable packaging if they choose.
  • Composting keeps waste out of landfills, which saves space and helps reduce the amount of money and manpower used in hauling trash.
  • Composters help the environment by reducing harmful gasses that come from landfills. Compost itself provides important nutrients for the soil and can even help enrich previously degraded soils.

Curious about compost turners for your composting facility?

Whether you run a municipal facility or composting business, SCARAB International can help you find the right machine for your needs. Our self-propelled windrow turners are made right here in the United States. We offer a variety of machines including New, Used, and Refurbished options. Call us at (806) 883-7621 or Send Us an email to learn more!