How Compostable is Compostable Packaging: Oct 2019

How Compostable Is Compostable Packaging; That Is The Question?

When I opened The Vegetable Diva I wanted to offer Take-away food which was affordably priced but did not effect the environment, I ummed and ahhed as to whether we should use take-away boxes and then offer discounts to customers who brought their own container.  A friend suggested  “Sonya go cold turkey start as you mean to go on” . This led me to think why not? at least I don’t need to wean people off.

A lot of our convenience culture and dependency on disposable packaging has happened due to its easy availability and in-availability of alternative options. We are trying to break habits by encouraging people to bring their own containers so that is one less piece of rubbish in the landfill.


  • Which brings us to the next question?
  • Surely it is ok if we use compostable packaging?
  • it will decompose won’t it?

Lets look at the facts:


Fossil-based or bio-based materials can be used to produce plastic which either biodegrade or compost. The diagram below shows the different types of plastics and bio plastics currently available in the UK.


Image taken from: WRAP | Understanding plastic packaging

Different plastics and bio plastics used in packaging

How are compostable bioplastics composted?

Currently biodegradable plastics cannot be recycled in the same way as non-biodegradable plastic.

It must be separated from non bio-degradable plastic streams and dealt with separately. If not, it causes problems during the recycling process.  The route for treatment and disposal must not compromise other existing recycling routes.

It may come as a surprise that , compostable plastic takeaway packaging was originally designed  to tackle food waste being contaminated with plastic packaging not to be the solution to plastic pollution and is not expected to break down in a marine environment.*2

Compostable materials are materials that break down at composting conditions. Industrial composting conditions require elevated temperature (55-60°C) combined with a high relative humidity and the presence of oxygen, plant-based packaging , including those made from polylactic acid (PLA) by companies such as Vegware, these conditions are rarely met in everyday biodegradation conditions: in soil, surface water and marine water.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires landfills to block out air, moisture and sunlight – crucial elements for proper biodegradation



A large percentage of bio plastics end up in the landfill where they do not degrade.Feb 2019). “That means that if your bag is like most “biodegradable” bags, it will just sit there, unable to decompose.”

In lay terms unless the biodegradable container which housed your take-away meal goes into a separate waste bin which is heading for an Industrial composting plant it is heading for the landfill where it will not decompose.

Compostable packaging examples

So how do you compost biodegradable bioplastic packaging

The best way to dispose of compostable plastics is to send them to an industrial or commercial composting facility where they’ll break down with the right mixture of heat, microbes, and time. Vegware is promising customers a “closed-loop” contract, where it supplies its products to businesses and then disposes of them. This  arrangement only covers 38% of UK postcodes.

BBC Wales News  Feb 2019

Harriet Giles beautifully sums up why we have decided not to use any packaging and opted for a refill policy with our ‘take-away’ menu.

“Bioplastics might sound good, but in reality, they are basically the same as plastic and don’t decompose in the way most people think they do. They often just end up as rubbish littering our streets, oceans and killing marine life. Bioplastics are a ‘false solution’ as they are single-use and there are extremely limited options to compost them. Ultimately, due the nature of when we tend to use bioplastics – as takeaway food containers and packaging – they end up in the bin and consequently as rubbish needing to be burned or landfilled.”



Hence we have come to the conclusion that the best solution is behaviour change a tiny shift when you leave your home take a box, leave it at work if you are office based and ask your take-away owner to fill this instead of using their take-away boxes. Currently over 650 take-away boxes are used by just one small take-away businesses in the UK. We feel that this is unsustainable and too great a price to pay for convenience, staff have been replaced by fridges containing pre-packed food and dishwashers and kitchen porters replaced by piles of un-compostable compostable packaging.

We the public can help push this movement by asking owners for the option they respond to consumer demand, I understand this is not always easy and you can get some  puzzling looks but small steps make big changes and the money they save on waste disposal and buying the packaging may mean a reduction in prices who knows, but one thing is for sure the planet will thank us for it.



Press release: Most bioplastics are “a load of rubbish”


“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

― Mahatma Gandhi