Can I compost this?

Can I compost this?

What is the difference between home compostable, and commercially compostable?

You will have noticed that compostable packaging is springing up everywhere, and inevitably, with it comes confusion. Home Compostable, Commercially Compostable, Biodegradable, Oxo-degradable - what does it all mean?!

All will become clear, we’ll dish the dirt on the terms you need to know below.

Home Compostable vs Commercially Compostable

It’s important to know whether that coffee cup you’re drinking from can actually be composted, and where does it need to go for that to happen? Can you compost it yourself at home, or does it need to go to a commercial compost facility? What about your new compostic cling wrap? Does it really break down?

If you do compost at home, that’s great! If not, don’t worry, there are 12 commercial compost facilities around New Zealand that accept compostable packaging as well as your food waste, and with brilliant collection services like We Compost taking on the challenge, everyone can reduce their waste going to landfill. It is important to understand that not all compostable packaging is created equal - which is where compost certifications come in.

There are three main international entities that third-party test and certify compostable products, they are Din Certco, TÜV AUSTRIA and BPI. After testing, a compostable product will either be certified “commercially compostable” or “home compostable”.

Commercially Compostable

When something is “commercially” or “industrially” compostable, it simply means that it needs to go to a commercial compost facility to completely break down. This is typical of more rigid compostable packaging, such as coffee cups, or PLA trays that require shredding before hitting the pile. Commercial compost facilities are professionally maintained and typically reach temperatures of at least 55 degrees celsius, which is why they are able to break down stronger materials within 12 weeks. 

Home Compostable: The Gold Standard

In contrast, home compostable simply means that the packaging will completely break down in a home compost environment. Because compost piles and bins in people’s backyards are much smaller in scale compared to commercial compost piles, they typically reach temperatures of around 25 degrees. As a result, home compostable products usually aren’t rigid and will break down within 24 weeks. So, while both options are better than plastic, packaging that is home-compostable is the gold standard because you can break it down yourself! 

If something is just labelled “compostable”, it usually means it is only commercially compostable - so try to find out what the certification is if you can. All good compostable products should include the certifications somewhere on the packaging.

OK, but what happens if my compostable packaging ends up in a landfill, or out in the world as litter? 

Well, of course neither are ideal scenarios! Having said that, compostable packaging in landfill will still break down much faster than plastic (think tens of years as opposed to hundreds). 

Landfills are an anaerobic environment, which means they are without oxygen due to everything being packed so tightly. Compostable products will act similarly to any organic matter in a landfill. 

Let’s take an apple, for example. An apple in landfill will break down a lot slower than it would in a compost bin, and it’ll release small amounts of methane as it degrades. Methane is a pretty potent greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change. The good news is, landfills in New Zealand capture these gases and either convert them to energy, or destroy them. 

Still, it shouldn’t be treated as a get out of jail free card - Kiwis send about 229,000 tonnes of organic waste to landfills each year. That could all be composted and used as a resource to grow new food! This is why composting is so worthwhile, and it really isn’t much trouble for the payoff. 

A quick word on Biodegradable and Oxo-Degradable 

Before we part, a quick word on the terms biodegradable and oxo-degradable. All compostable packaging is biodegradable, but not all biodegradable packaging is compostable - again, this is where the certifications come in. Plastics that are labelled as biodegradable or oxo degradable but not compostable will typically still consist of 70% - 99% plastic! 

These plastics are merged with a small percentage of biopolymers that are designed to break down in open air conditions. As the biopolymers start to break down, they break into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic that we call microbeads or microplastics. These stay in our environment just as long as a plastic bag would, only they’re small, so you can’t pick them up and put them in the bin or recycle them. Consequently, these products are banned in many countries around the world as they’re considered worse for the environment that plastic products themselves. They get into the air we breathe, the food we eat, there’s even micro plastic being found in Arctic snow, so oxo-degradable products are, in fact, exacerbating the problem. 

We hope this will help next time you find yourself wondering just what it is you’re buying. If there’s one thing to remember, it’s to always look for the certifications! 

Be sure to check out our world-first home compostable cling wrap in Huckleberry stores now! Compostic wrap is third party certified 100% home compostable. It functions just the same as the plastic wrap you’re used to, the only difference is that it’ll break down in a matter of months in compost, instead of hundreds or thousands of years in a landfill. 

Compostic use soy-based inks for printing, so you can even compost or recycle the packaging too!


Article by - Tim Kelly

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