While reusables are the best option to replace single-use plastic packaging, we get it - sometimes this is not practical. The next best option is to use compostable packaging, and look for ways you can reduce how much you are giving out.
The good news? There’s an ever increasing number of packaging suppliers who are providing suitable compostable products.
But choosing the right items can be tricky - there is a lot of misleading information out there. You don’t want to end up paying more for a lower quality product that’s not better for the environment.
Our guide will help you find the most sustainable packaging options currently on the market.
Our tips on finding the right products
Most important? Choose CERTIFIED compostables.
Products can be certified compostable, which means it is proven to break down in a specific timeframe under specific conditions. If a product claims compostability, it must be backed up with a certification. In Australia, the industry standards are the Australian Standard for Home Composting (AS 5810) or the Australian Standard for Commercial Composting (AS 4736). Look out for these symbols when choosing your packaging.
Most compostable products sold in Australia are certified to European or American Standards, which would be your next best choice (although many composters do not like them as they do not give surety about the ability of the products to break down effectively under Australian conditions).
Ask your supplier if the product you are considering is certified compostable. Where possible, choose home compost standard items as these will break down much more readily in backyard composts and the environment. Common material types that can be certified home compostable are paper, cardboard, and bagasse (sugarcane pulp). Industrial compost standard is the second choice - these require the item to be sent to a commercial composter to effectively break down. Compostable bioplastics such as PLA (usually made from cornstarch) fall into this category.
As certifications are not mandatory, many products claim compostability and do not carry certifications. This is where it can get tricky - without certifications there is no way to tell if the product will live up to its claims. We have summarised our top tips below, to ensure you don’t end up paying more for cleverly ‘greenwashed’ plastic.
'Greenwashing’ is making a product sound like it is better for the environment than it actually is. Marketers cleverly use buzzwords such as ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’, ‘biodegradable’ and ‘eco-friendly’ to do this. They also use imagery and colours (particularly green and brown). If you see these being used without compost certifications, it could be greenwashing. It pays to ignore the marketing and pay attention to certifications and what the product is made of.
Coffee cups & lids
Certified home compostable coffee cups are not (yet) available so look for commercially compostable cups made of paper with a PLA (bioplastic) lining. Choose brands whose cups are certified to the Australian Commercial Composting Standard (like BioPak or Greenmark). Currently, most single-use cups go to landfill, as neither plastic-lined nor PLA-lined cups are recyclable under Council collections. However, commercially compostable cups are overall better for the environment and carry a lower environmental footprint. They can be collected under a compost collection service (see further down for more info).
Look for bagasse lids. These are made from sugarcane pulp, a byproduct that would otherwise go to waste. They look great and do not tend to be soggy. Bagasse can go into a home compost bin. The next best alternative are Australian Standard certified commercially compostable PLA lids. If you choose PLA lids, be aware that they look like traditional plastic. To tell the difference, note the recycling symbols - PLA has a symbol '7' and PS (polystyrene plastic - you want to avoid this!) a symbol '6'. PLA lids will usually also have the words ‘PLA’ and 'compostable' on it.
When ordering, ensure to check you are getting the right ones.
Switch to paper straws - there are many good brands that won't fall apart or go soggy. Look for 3-ply sustainably sourced FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified products.
Use wheat or rye straws, made from the stem of the plant, a byproduct from farming. These are naturally hard and gluten free.
PLA straws are another compostable option, but not preferred as they require industrial composting facilities to break down and are a problem if littered.
Avoid oxo-degradable/biodegradable straws, these are made of plastic - and when they break apart, they contribute to the worldwide microplastic problem.
A great option is bagasse, these come in all shapes and sizes, are leak-proof, freezer-proof and microwavable. Bagasse is insulative and will also keep food hot. You can find matching sugarcane or compostable PLA lids.
PLA containers are also available, though note that PLA is not suitable for hot food.
For food that will not leak, unlined cardboard is also an option (source sustainable cardboard by looking for FSC certified products). PLA lined cardboard is also available for foods that will leak (although remember all PLA items require industrial composting facilities).
PENINSULA’S LAST STRAW
Businesses can join The Peninsula’s Last Straw program and receive a 3 month paper straw starter pack completely free of charge. The campaign targets a key litter item by inviting venues to swap plastic straws for paper ones. The goal is to have half of all retailers on the Peninsula switching to paper straws by the end of 2021. The program is proudly supported by a range of partners with funding provided by National Geographic.
Foodware (cutlery, cups, plates etc.)
For plates and bowls, choose items made from FSC certified paper or from bagasse. Ensure they are not lined with plastic (PLA lining is acceptable).
For cold cups, look for paper lined with PLA. Lids (where needed) should be made from PLA.
For cutlery, FSC certified wood is best, and for extra smoothness, wax-coated options are available. PLA options are not recommended as they are more difficult to compost and a problem if littered.
Provide recycled cardboard boxes for customers to use.
Provide FSC certifiedsustainably sourced paper bags.
REDUCE TO SAVE MONEY & WASTE
Most businesses give out more packaging than is needed. You can reduce your costs significantly by moving items such as straws, cutlery and bags out of your customers’ reach and only giving them out upon request. You can also put up a fun message or sign encouraging customers to request only what they need. See our signage options.
A final note on composting
By changing to compostable packaging you’ve taken a huge step! You’ve eliminated fossil fuel based plastics and said yes to a future of renewables. Ideally you should go one step further and close the loop by making sure your compostables are indeed turned into compost for our gardens and farms.
Mornington Peninsula Shire Council is currently introducing a FOGO (Food & Organics) bin for residents and we’re looking into larger scale options for business composting.
In the meantime, you can join our growing number of local venues who’ve taken food and packaging composting into their own hands.
One such business is Millers Bread Kitchen (Dromana), who have introduced a compost bin for all their compostable packaging and food waste. Their collection goes directly to Torello Farm just a few kilometres up the road. A perfect closed loop system that supports local produce, regenerative farming and low transport miles.