Biodegradable packaging update

A Wisconsin-based company has introduced a fully compostable multilayer packaging pouch for consumer and pet food packaging. The pouch consists of paper, a PLA bioplastic film layer, and water-based adhesive. No information is provided about the adhesive but both paper and PLA are reputable materials which are certainly compostable. The package is certified as compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute, a reputable testing organization for compostability, so we assume that the adhesive is also properly biodegradable.

Before brandowners rush into compostable packaging, GallonDaily suggests a few aspects that need to be considered:

  • these products likely require commercial composting and will probably not degrade particularly rapidly in a home compost system.
  • federal rules in Canada prohibit the labeling of a material as compostable unless  a “reasonable proportion of consumers” (defined as 50% or more) in the communities where the product is sold have access to a compost collection system that will accept the specific material. Compostable multilayer pouches are not currently collected in any municipal compost collection program in Canada, so it is contrary to federal rules to label the package as compostable.
  • claims of “compostable where facilities exist” are not permitted by federal rules. Any claim about compostability of a material has to be more specific about where and how consumers can have the package composted at the end of its life. At the present time, in Canada, consumers cannot get the package composted at the end of its life.
  • the idea of degradable packaging has emerged because so much of our environmental focus has been on reduction of waste going to landfill. However, just because a package is compostable does not mean that it is the best for the environment. In many cases a recyclable package, where the material of the package is reused into another package or other valuable item, is often environmentally preferred over a compostable package, where some of the material escapes into the air as a greenhouse gas during the composting process and subsequently. The only way to determine whether a compostable package or a recyclable package is environmentally preferred is to conduct a Life Cycle Analysis. Sometimes LCA results will be dependent on local conditions such as the availability of  recycling or composting facilities.

Despite these caveats, GallonDaily expects there will be a role for compostable packaging in the future, especially for products which contaminate the packaging so much that recycling is not environmentally worthwhile because it would use, for example, large volumes of water. However, for such products as dry petfood or dry pasta, we are inclined to think that a simple polybag or, even better, a reusable container filled from a in-store bulk container, is likely an environmentally better option than any kind of compostable pouch. After all, the first tenet of the 3R’s is to reduce the amount of stuff we acquire.

The new multilayer compostable pouch pack can be viewed at http://www.precisioncolor.com/ecoterah/

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