Compostable Packaging – Really?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Time and again we read that this or that product has “compostable packaging” or that this or that product range at this or that supermarket is sold in “compostable packaging”. The question is what does “compostable packaging” really mean?

The statement as to “compostable packaging” is very misleading indeed for while it is true that that kind of packaging, often PLA based plastics, is indeed compostable this only applies to commercial composting facilities. It will take years, if ever, to compost in a composter in your garden or on your compost heap.

Most consumers, however, do not have that kind of knowledge and this extends as far as the compostable liners for kitchen caddy which, we are told, can be tossed onto the compost heap or into the composter with contents and will be gone within three months. Nothing could be further from the truth.

How do I know? I have tried it. And even after two years the PLA plastic material still is not broken down completely.

Thus, discernment is needed on the side of the consumer and stores and vendors better get their facts straight. You will be found out to do greenwashing and customers will not like you one bit for it.

Too many stores and vendors claim to be green and ethical but engage in serious issues of greenwash on a n almost daily basis either totally unaware of the fact or simply in order to fleece the consumer. Which one is it?

Let's call one out for starters, and this is the store where I like to do my general shopping; Sainsbury's. The claim is that the packaging on the “So Organics” range of foods is compostable but, as we have just come to see, this is only true to an extent in that the composting must happen in a commercial composting plant. The customer, however, is not told that and, I could bet my bottom dollar here, the great majority will believe that they can just toss it onto the compost heap and it will be gone in three months or such.

Maybe Sainsbury's would be so kind as to rectify this and let customers know that this claim of compostability only applies properly if the stuff goes to the big commercial plants. The heat generated in a domestic compost heap or in a composter is just not great enough to create a proper breakdown process.

Sainsbury's is, by no means, alone in this and others of the British supermarkets and others are equally guilty when it comes to such claims in the same way as when it comes to the milk in bags, the chopped tomatoes in cartons, etc. While it may reduce the waste, as in amount, most municipalities do not have the recycling facilities for such new items. Laminated packaging, for instance, cannot be processed and thus the claims of reducing the impact when going from tin cans to cardboard lined with tinfoil packs does not wash.

May I suggest a serious rethink and honesty in green claims...

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