Composting is hot! It's time for an FAQ - Part one
- By Wouter Moekotte
- Nov 26, 2020
What's the difference between biodegradable and compostable?
Compostable and biodegradable are terms that are often used interchangeably, which gives rise to confusion, when describing organic materials breaking down in a specific environment. To be considered as compostable, a material or product is capable of undergoing a biochemical process of material conversion into water, carbon dioxide, methane and biomass, depending on the environmental conditions of the process. Biodegradable is more of a collective term for the same biochemical process, but biodegradation can occur in different environments, under varying conditions, and timeframes. Compostable products require, however, particular conditions, such as the right level of heat, water and oxygen, and a defined time frame, i.e. within 9-12 weeks in order to break down, whereas biodegradable products break down naturally within an undefined time period. For example, wood and cork are biodegradable, but the degradation process is generally much slower than composting. In order to claim that a product is fully compostable and is not leaving any harmful residues behind, our compostable products need to meet all the requirements in the European Norm EN 13432 and/or the US Standard ASTM D6400.
Why should you compost (y)our sustainable disposables?
(Y)our compostable disposables are designed to be composted in an industrial composting facility or home composting bin/pile together with food waste. This means that no prior sorting is of compostable packaging and food is required, that is, without removing food debris. The added benefit is that once food and compostable disposables share one waste bin, the other dry bins are cleaner and the content is naturally easier to recycle. Therefore, particularly for food-contaminated disposables, compostability is a practical property and sustainable solution.
By composting disposables, made out of renewable resources, the amount of waste going to environmentally- damaging landfills can be reduced, where they would take up space and could even contribute to the release of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Moreover, composting keeps organic resources local and makes a valuable soil amendment. Unlike, for example, the recycling of plastic or paper, which is often shipped overseas or sent to landfills.
What’s the difference between industrial composting and home composting?
Industrial or commercial composting takes place in an industrial composting facility. This environment is designed to optimise the composting process by creating precisely controlled and ideal conditions to ensure efficient biodegradation of organic materials. Industrial composting can sustain e.g. the temperature (high heat), moisture content, air flow and overall stability of the compost more rigorously than home composting. In general, industrial facilities can process large volumes of waste more frequently and efficiently than a home environment. In order to be suitable for industrial composting, our products and materials need to meet the strict criteria of the European norm EN 13432.
If our packaging is certified home compostable, OK compost HOME, it can be collected in a home compost barrel/ bin or the green bins where it will decompose and produce a nutrient-rich soil as result of the breakdown, within a measured period of time. This home method requires generally frequent turning and (self-)maintenance to ensure the right temperature, moisture content and air flow is present to speed up the composting process. In the process of home composting, the compost mix is broken down by microorganisms, which then produce a nutrient rich so-called humus, a great fertilizer for the garden.
What are the required circumstances for a compostable product to compost?
Compostable disposables and packaging need to be in the right composting conditions in order to break down and subsequently compost.
Industrial composting facilities create the perfect balance of microbes, moisture content and temperature, hence compostable packaging can be included in food waste recycling.
When home composting, these conditions can vary significantly, and therefore need to be carefully managed. For example, in the garden, temperatures and volumes are on average lower than in industrial composting facilities, and the required circumstances are overall less stable. Consequently, the composting process generally works normally slower under home composting conditions.
Do our products - industrial composting certified - compost in a home compost?
Packaging that is certified for industrial composting cannot be handled by a home environment. This is because certain products require the intensity and stability of an industrial facility to decompose properly. Moreover, home composting takes generally longer than industrial composting; some bio-based materials need higher temperatures to biodegrade than home composting can achieve. Most of our sustainable disposables and packaging are currently designed for industrial composting, according to EN 13432, and not home composting. Anecdotal evidence from our clients however indicates that some industrially certified products will compost in well managed home compost piles.
Which products are home compostable?
The majority of our sugarcane range is certified home compostable according to TÜV Austria OK Compost HOME. The same applies to our fresh produce bags and waste bags made from Mater-Bi. We aim to increase the percentage of our certified home compostable products in order to offer more sustainable composting solutions in the future.