Single-use: we all know the challenges, but let’s explore a compostable solution. Even with a major shift to reusables, some disposables will always be needed. By choosing compostables, foodservice businesses can actively drive change in Australian recycling. Here’s why businesses should consider going compostable.
What’s the point of disposables being compostable?
Compostable disposables are designed to be recycled in an industrial composting facility together with food waste. That means there’s no need for sorting, and the compostable cup, lid, burger box, knife and napkin can all go together without removing the ketchup and leftover chips. An extra bonus is that once food and disposables share one bin, other dry recycling bins are cleaner and easier to recycle.
Compostability isn’t best for all situations. For example, Vegware wouldn’t make compostable water bottles, as PET plastic already has a developed recycling infrastructure. But for food-contaminated disposables, compostability is a sensible solution.
How do compostables solve food contamination?
Combining plastic and card in foodservice packaging creates massive recycling challenges, as highlighted by the recent coffee cup recycling debate. Food contamination is inevitable, so the result is incineration or landfill. For disposables destined for serving food, it makes sense to use materials that can be recycled together with food. With compostable disposables, food isn’t contamination, it’s a vital ingredient in the composting process.
What’s wrong with recyclable?
Everyone likes the word ‘recyclable’, but here’s some news which highlights the real challenges of recycling used ‘recyclable’ packaging.
Australia exports an annual average of 619,000 tonnes of materials to China, with no idea if it actually gets recycled. China has been a major recycling destination for many countries, but over the years discovered the materials it receives isn't good enough quality to recycle. Since January 2018, China has banned imports of household plastics, and only accepts cardboard and paper with less than 0.5% contamination. Other Asian countries are considering similar bans, to avoid becoming a dumping ground for unrecyclable waste.
What’s the learning here? That in reality, card + plastic + food isn’t recyclable.
What is Vegware made from?
Vegware makes catering disposables from plants, not plastic. After use, they are designed for industrial composting with food waste. Vegware replaces conventional plastics with various plant-based materials. For example, PLA is a compostable material made from plants. PLA replaces the plastic in coffee cup linings or sandwich windows, and it’s the clear material in our cold cups and deli containers. Our hot cup lids and cutlery are made of a high-heat version of PLA.
Reclaimed sugarcane fibre is another practical material we use for our clamshells, plates and bowls. Known as bagasse, it performs really well, keeping heat in but not trapping condensation. Plus, it’s renewable, a reclaimed by-product of the sugar industry.
Read more about our eco materials.
Do plant-based materials work as well as plastic?
Absolutely. In the early days there were limitations, but not any more. Cafés can be confident that their plant-based disposables will function perfectly. We only use water-based or vegetable-based inks for our custom printing, and the print finish is great.
What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable?
Same process, different breakdown speeds. Forget the term biodegradable, as it tells us nothing about timescales (wood is biodegradable, but a log cabin can stand for generations). Compostable means that packaging can break down in under 12 weeks in composting conditions, and is therefore suitable for industrial composting. Make sure your disposables supplier has compostability certification – that’s the real guarantee. Read more about certification here.
What are composting conditions?
Compostable packaging needs to be in composting conditions in order to compost. Industrial composting creates the perfect balance of microbes, moisture and warmth, so that compostable packaging can be included in food waste recycling. Home composting conditions vary with the skill of the householder, so we don’t make any claims there, but there have been successful trials using hot compost bins.
Is Vegware suitable for on-site composting?
Where collections aren’t possible, some on-site composting systems can process used Vegware with food waste. If your site has some outside space and would be interested in discussing options, just get in touch.
Where is it easiest to capture used compostables?
Vegware’s main clients are contract caterers who operate cafés and restaurants in universities, office buildings or zoos. In enclosed sites like these and at events, used Vegware can be captured within the site’s bins, which allows us to work with their waste teams to set up composting schemes. Cup recycling schemes are making huge strides; ours is a solution for all disposables and food waste, not just cups.
Why is education so important?
A key part of the switch-over is education and behaviour change, creating clear bin signage and training everyone involved – from customers to catering managers and waste operatives. The last thing we want is to send contaminated waste to composting facilities. So education is very important, and it’s something we take seriously here at Vegware.
What about on-the-go?
Compostables face exactly the same issue as all disposables on-the-go: how to capture it once it’s walked out the door? Schemes collecting any on-the-go recycling (including plastic-lined cups), depend on consumers finding the right bin, and not accidentally contaminating it with the wrong materials. The right ‘binfrastrucure’ is needed, but those bins need to be used correctly. That means clear messaging and consumer education is vital to make sure what is collected is good enough to be recycled.
The thing is, exactly the same challenges (binfrastructure + behaviour) apply to all recycling – whether that’s plastic-lined cups, plastic bottles, or compostable disposables. Compostables are not the enemy. We’re fighting the same challenges, with the same goal: better recycling.
Vegware's eco packaging is made of various natural materials. Card and paper-based Vegware can be composted at home, such as:
- Paper bags
- Food cartons
- Hot cups
- Soup containers
- Bagasse takeaway boxes and tableware
- Certified compostable food waste bin liners
- Natureflex bags (certified for home composting)
Vegware suggests that any paper or cardboard based products would compost at home in a well managed and maintained compost bin. Vegware products may take longer to home compost than the usual 12 weeks commercial composting time because the conditions in home composting operations are often dependant upon the type and size of the composting bin, the heat temperature achieved inside the composting bin, and how well maintained the bin is kept.
As with any raw material or "brown" mix, it is advised to tear or shred the material into smaller pieces before adding to a composter.
Our Vegware Home Composting Fact Sheet suggests how Vegware products might work in a home composting environment.
Please note that corn starch-based Vegware, such as cold cups and lids, deli containers and lids, cutlery, hot cup lids and cornstarch windows, need to go to a commercial food waste recycling or composting facility.
There’s a major opportunity for change in Australian recycling right now.
Compostables are the only practical solution for food-contaminated disposables.
The more businesses that go compostable, the faster we can achieve this much-needed change.