5 TAKEAWAYS | Compostables: A national, coordinated approach
Compostable packaging consists of plant-based, recyclable materials, meaning it is made, disposed of and breaks down in a more environmentally-friendly manner than traditional plastic packaging.
Common materials that go in to compostable packaging include corn starch, PLA (synthesised from corn) and PBAT (Polybutyrate Adipate Terephthalate). When properly disposed of, compostable packaging can quickly biodegrade and return to the earth.
The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) have developed a Considerations for Compostable Plastic Packaging in partnership with the Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) and the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA). The resource is designed to eliminate confusion around the practice, and help business leaders to decide when and where to use compostable packaging. In this session, industry leaders from APCO, AORA and the ABA discussed their national, coordinated approach to their new resource, as well as developments in building a strategy to collect and process compostable packaging in an efficient and sustainable manner.
Missed our session? Here are some of the key takeaways!
1. What does the resource provide?
Brooke Donnelly from the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation opened the discussion with an overview of the 2025 National Packaging Targets, which prompted the creation of this useful and important resource.
“By 2025, product packaging will be 100% reuseable, compostable or recyclable.”
Lily Barnett from Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation then lead the session with a breakdown of the Considerations for Compostable Plastic Packaging guide, which is readily available to the public through APCO’s website, “we thought there was a need for a key resource…to take away some of the complications [of compostable packaging] and make it really clear.”
This resource is an interactive document that outlines key information including clear definitions and clarification of complex terms, standards and certifications, the landscape of this sector today and applications for compostable plastic packaging.
Lily explained an extremely useful tool – ‘decision trees’ – included in the guide that can help stakeholders consider where they can use compostable plastic packaging appropriately. Brand Owners and Manufacturers as well as foodservice providers can determine whether they can switch from conventional materials to compostable plastic packaging simply by clicking yes or no on the prompts provided.
Lily also informed the audience that APCO is currently working on a National Compostable Packaging Strategy – working with key stakeholders in government and industry to outline the actions that need to be taken collectively to ensure that certified compostable packaging is used to facilitate a circular economy.
2. The importance of communication
Peter Wadewitz from Australian Organics Recycling Association, highlighted key issues facing the industry at the moment, the most prominent being the importance of communication, “We’ve got to be vigilant in this area because this could undo us all if we don’t keep on top of it.”
Peter went on to elaborate the importance of “communicating clearly with the EPAs around the country – everyone has their own interpretations which makes it difficult to achieve appropriate composting procedures.”
The Considerations for Compostable Plastic Packaging guide seeks to help provide clarity and definitions surrounding compostable plastic packaging, to ensure recovery at end of life and beneficial end uses. “We’re trying to clear up the definitions of all of the terms. To your average consumer, it can be really confusing and misleading as well,” said Lily.
“Making sure the communication is clear in reference to collection systems. The importance of steering clear of particular statements including ‘plastic-free’ and ‘100% compostable’,” voiced Lily. “Being transparent to consumers is vital in compostable packaging.”
Peter also spoke about the misleading and often harmful use of the term ‘biodegradable’. “Everything biodegrades! What we don’t want in our compost is the hydrocarbons. It confuses the marketplace…Simple communication. If it’s not reuseable, recyclable, compostable, then what is it?”
3. European standards vs. Australian standards
The question of European versus Australian compostable packaging standards was submitted by an audience member through the chat function on the online platform. Warwick Hall from the Australian Bioplastics Association (ABA), clarified that these two certifications are very similar, and that when they were being written, the Australian standards used the European as a point of reference.
The difference between the two is that there is an additional toxicity test involved in Australia’s, determined by a working group to ensure the importance of protecting the health of our agricultural industry and soil. This element is being adopted elsewhere, having been introduced into a recent British standard. He stated, “It is an important and critical difference.”
4. Verification program of the ABA
Anyone can apply to have their products verified through the ABA, you do not have to be a member of the organisation. Once verified, products can then be endorsed with either the ABA Home Composting logo or the ABA Industrial Composting logo.
The key inclusions in these verifications for Australian standards are:
- Characterisation – you have to disclose exactly what the product is made from.
- Disintegration under specified test methods and conditions.
- Biodegradbalility – aerobic and anerobic under specified test methods and conditions.
“These are the best way possible to test,” said Warwick, “they are a good indicator of how a product will perform in composting conditions…it is the most conscious way to preserve the quality of our soils.”
5. How do we get infrastructure in place to deal with bio plastics?
This was another question submitted by an audience member through the online platform. Peter, Warwick and Brooke all shared their perspectives.
“We are transitioning through a whole change,” voiced Peter. ‘I’ve worked in this industry for 50 years and I’ve never seen the ducks walk so in line than they are today…Just steady – let’s be calm, let’s work together and let’s educate each other.”
“The biggest barriers is the confusion of what is organically recyclable,” explained Warwick. “There’s dodgy products out there. Without conditions being stipulated, it doesn’t mean a thing. You have to have standards, you have to have certifications.”
Brooke wrapped up the session in saying, “not all packaging is suitable for this type of material, it does have limited functionality. We talk about a considered approach because it’s not appropriate for everything.”
Brooke Donnelly, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation
Lily Barnett, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation
Peter Wadewitz, Australian Organics Recycling Association
Warwick Hall, Australian Bioplastics Association