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Compostable Packaging for Greener Products

Packaging isn't just about marketing -- it also requires design decisions to prevent waste. And that becomes a waste management issue that can last for hundreds of years in a landfill.

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EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery says that a product classified as "biodegradable or compostable" doesn’t make it 100% green.

These so-called compostable or biodegradable products "are only good for the environment when composted". By sending these compostable materials to a landfill, they will not automatically breakdown -- the right conditions have to exist for them to decompose.

The very nature of landfills prevents the vast majority of compostable products from decomposing. Today's "sanitary" landfills are virtually "dry tombs" designed specifically to protect the materials deposited in them from coming in contact with air, water, ground water and sunlight. If compostable products start to break down and decompose in a landfill, they will remain trapped in place possibly producing methane gas and leachate.

Greener packaging is more about reducing and recycling organic waste and composting than about using new compostable materials if they cannot be composted. Bulk packaging that can be part of a "take back" program in which the company can handle the composting is another, a "greener" matter. Take back programs can be especially effective in the B2B world.

So, while green(er) packaging still has benefits, the best thing to do for the environment is to not create the waste in the first place. In spite of our best efforts, when waste is created, the next best options for our finances and the environment will be to reuse it, recycle it or compost it!

RESOURCES for Reuse:

Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics for Greener Packaging

Plastic products are items you use everyday like bags, bottles, packaging, and containers. Conventional plastics used for these products include HDPE, PET, and LDPE. These plastics can be easily reused or recycled.

Other materials that have been developed are biodegradable and compostable plastics. This type of packaging will safely disintegrate and biodegrade in a well-managed composting site. Many, but not all, of these materials are produced from renewable resources (i.e. corn, switch grass, grain).

Two specifications that identify plastics as biodegradable and compostable have been developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials:

  • ASTM D6400 (Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics) and
  • ASTM D6868 (Standard Specification for Biodegradable Plastics Used as Coatings on Paper and Other Compostable Substrates).
Composting biodegradable or compostable packaging or products is an effective form of recycling.

RESOURCES for Greener Product Design:
Biodegradable Products Institute
American Society for Testing and Materials
EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| compost | composting | green packaging | landfill diversion | waste management |

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