Breaking down composting
A tosser. You are most likely one of them.
Kiwis toss out a lot of food waste – $872 million worth a year to be exact. This is a whopping 122,500 tonnes of food, the equivalent of 213 jumbo jets according to Love Food Hate Waste. Fruit that started to rot in the fruit bowl, carrot peel, apple skins, that broccoli you didn’t eat in time…
Apart from the sheer scale of the waste, why is tossing an issue? Because the large majority of food waste will likely take a sad road to the very undesirable final destination we call landfill.
When food and other organic waste is condemned to landfill, methane is produced as the food rots. That methane can escape into the atmosphere, acting as one of the top contributors to global warming, and it is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The prospect of up to 213 jumbo jets worth of food waste producing methane as it rots in a landfill is not a good one. So what’s an alternative?
It’s composting, which is very simple: it is the decay of organic matter including fruit and vegetable scraps, and garden waste like leaves, grass cuttings, twigs and straw. Together, these ingredients decay and break down into a brown, crumbly heap that is nutrient-rich and great for the garden, where it acts as a slow-release fertilizer. Yes, we are telling you that you can take your food waste and turn it into a sort of fertiliser where it can be returned to the soil to help with the growth of next-generation plants. Plus, we are diverting away from landfill. So where does Ecoware fit in?
Well, it was this concept which formed the premise of Ecoware nearly a decade ago. Knowing there had to be a better alternative to plastic packaging, founders James Calver and Alex Magaraggia launched Ecoware, packaging made from plants. They developed a complete range of packaging solutions designed to be commercially composted after use. This was a game changer for the industry: less plastic, and more composting!
Like food, compostable packaging is classified as organic waste and will produce methane when it decomposes in a landfill. But when composted in optimal conditions, it breaks down aerobically into carbon dioxide, water and the nutrient-rich compost we love.
Let’s break down composting further:
The majority of Ecoware products are certified as commercially compostable to multiple international standards recorded under the International Organization for Standardization (IOS). The main standards are from Europe and the US and to meet these standards, three important things must be achieved:
1) the product must 100% biodegrade,
2) the product must biodegrade into completely non-toxic byproducts, and
3) the product must biodegrade within 90 days.
For these three things to be achieved, optimal conditions are required: high temperature (on average 65°C), sufficient moisture and air, and the right population of microorganisms to chew down the waste.
Commercial compost facilities in NZ achieve these conditions in a controlled environment, so we can confidently say that Ecoware products meet the international standard of being able to biodegrade within 90 days at these business operations. Even better, the compost produced at these places is subsequently sold to agriculture and communities to do further good. There are currently 98 commercial facilities across New Zealand, 11 of which accept and process Ecoware packaging. An additional 8 facilities are currently trialling the process of composting Ecoware product.
In a home compost situation, there are significant differences to a commercial compost facility and therefore challenges to overcome. The Australian home composting standard requires a product to:
1) 100% biodegrade,
2) biodegrade into completely non-toxic byproducts, and
3) biodegrade within 180 days.
You will see that the only difference between these home and commercial composting standards is the time frame. However, the issue is that home compost bin conditions will vary from household to household. Not everyone will be able to maintain a high temperature in their bin or the correct balance of waste and population of microorganisms. There are also different home composting solutions available, for example, worm bins, bokashi bins, and hot and cold composting. Each system requires different types of inputs to work effectively (some need brown and green waste, others need just green waste) and operate in different environments (some aerobic, some anaerobic). Therefore, the rate of biodegradation will vary for everyone with home compost.
Because everyone’s home bin is so different and conditions vary, we cannot guarantee that Ecoware product will biodegrade at your house within 180 days. It could biodegrade within 190 days, or it could biodegrade in 181 days – it all depends. You may be thinking that applying a blanket home composting standard that works for all systems does not make much sense? We think the same and are currently working with The Packaging Forum to address this. It is for these reasons that Ecoware always recommends commercially composting our products.
Here we further explain the variation. Shopper A is conscious of the environment and likes to use as little plastic as possible. They have a home cold compost bin outside and always puts the correct food scraps there. Shopper A loves to garden and ensures that there is a good balance of green and brown waste to optimise biodegradation. Shopper A loves going to the local cafe on Saturday morning to grab a takeaway coffee in a compostable EcoCup and lid. The EcoCup and lid are shredded when the coffee is gone and put it in the compost bin. The packaging biodegrades within 200 days.
Shopper B is also conscious of the environment and likes to use as little plastic as possible. They have a home cold compost bin outside and always puts the correct food scraps there, but there is never enough brown waste added. Shopper B does not spend time tending to the compost bin and is always busy with weekend sport/hobbies. Shopper B loves going to the local cafe on Saturday morning to grab a takeaway coffee in a compostable EcoCup and lid. The EcoCup and lid are shredded when the coffee is gone and put it in the compost bin. The packaging biodegrades within 1 year.
Shopper C is also conscious of the environment and likes use as little plastic as possible. They have a bokashi bin at home. Shopper C loves going to the local cafe on Saturday morning to grab a takeaway coffee in a compostable EcoCup and lid. Unfortunately, the EcoCup and lid cannot be put into a bokashi bin, as “brown” waste such as paper, cardboard and garden waste should not be added. Shopper C also lives in a region where there is no local commercial compost facility accepting compostable packaging and has to resort to tossing in the trash. Shopper C expresses concerns about food waste going to landfill to the local council and trusts that one day this issue will be resolved.
All shoppers have an alternative form of food waste disposal and achieved diversion from landfill. However, Shopper C did not have the appropriate bin for Ecoware packaging, and Shopper B did not have the time to properly maintain their bin, thus optimal conditions were not met. Although eventually, the Ecoware product did 1) break down completely, and 2) break down into non-toxic byproduct, it took longer than 180 days for Shopper A and B. It still turned to compost, but it didn’t meet the Australian Home Composting standard as it took longer than 180 days. This is why we do not advertise Ecoware products as home compostable.
Everyone can compost and it is easy. The Compost Collective is a collaborative project aimed at increasing the number of Auckland households engaged in composting, running regular workshops to teach people just how it’s done. And there are organisations like Beyond The Bin who work with private industry and public sector to influence and encourage waste diversion strategies.
You don’t have to be a tosser anymore – instead, choose to make a difference. Food and food packaging waste can be a part of the natural circle of life if it’s returned to the soil it came from with reduced reliance on landfill. Sustainable, compostable packaging is the future and it is here right now. But there is still a lot of work to do.
Ecoware packaging can be found in a number of cafes, food trucks, events and organisations. These are businesses that are trying to make a difference and want consumers to join them on a journey towards improved sustainability. Together, we can scrap unnecessary waste and help to develop the composting industry.