Sustainability is a concept and strategy of ever-growing importance in the business world. It means minimizing the impact on the environment and surrounding communities, as well as calling for more effective processes that use fewer resources. This can translate to lower operating costs, better and more effective operations, and an eco-friendly bottom line.
There are many ways to improve sustainability, such as using less power and energy, reducing waste, and minimizing environmental impact. Another way to improve sustainability, which is having a huge effect on the food service industry (and will quite possibly have a significant impact on packaging in general), is to convert that waste entirely into something more eco-friendly. Enter compostable packaging.
Not to be confused with biodegradable packaging, compostable essentially means the material will disintegrate or produce natural elements in a compost-friendly environment. They are not toxic to the soil and will not release harmful chemicals. Moreover, the composting process happens at a much faster rate than something biodegradable — which can take over a thousand years in some cases.
Here are some of the major reasons why compostable packaging has become such a hit in the foodservice industry.
Packaging must meet the ASTM-D6400 standard or be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) to be labeled compostable. Some packaging brands may use shady or misleading tactics to make products seem eco-friendly, but they are not the same. Compostable materials, including plastic, are designed to complete the composting process within about 90 days.
The certifications mean the Earth-friendly materials are truly compostable, so it’s a reliable way to reduce waste and environmental impact. This is often referred to as reducing the carbon footprint.
Because of the way compostable packaging is designed, it’s often less bulky and more lightweight than similar materials. The lighter a package is, the cheaper and easier it is to ship or handle. What’s more, because it can be tossed using unconventional methods — it doesn’t necessarily have to be thrown in a trash bin — it can be cheaper to dispose of, too.
Like many recyclable materials, compostable packaging can be reused in various ways, which stretches its value even further. It’s also safer because it contains fewer toxic chemicals, if any, which is good news for children who use them for arts and crafts.
It should be noted that compostable plastic almost always needs to be handled appropriately. It must be commercially composted and recycled. You cannot just throw a container into regular compost, despite what the name implies.
Other materials, like compostable wood and paper, can be thrown into conventional compost bins. This creates unique possibilities where the materials can be reused for other eco-friendly things, like fertilizing a planter or helping sustain a small garden.
Like plastics, certain compostables can still contribute toxic chemicals to soils and foods, so it’s important to understand what impact they have before making a plan to naturally compost them. That said, it is something you can explore for your business, customers and beyond.
Green initiatives and eco-friendly practices help create positive customer sentiment, giving the brand and business a better reputation. People also prefer to support and invest money with environmentally friendly companies.
About 70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada believe it’s important for brands to be sustainable or eco-friendly. In addition, 70% of respondents are willing to pay 35% more, on average, for green products and brands.
Wrap your items in compostable packaging and make it known, and people will be more willing to snag your goods, possibly even over competing products.
Despite how eco-conscious people may be and our collective push toward more recyclable products as a society, it’s just not happening. Many types of plastic and paper that could be recycled are not being sent to the appropriate places. This has led to municipal recycling programs that limit what they take in and deal with, particularly when it comes to low-value materials. It’s so bad that we’ve been shipping a lot of recyclable waste overseas for years, but other countries are starting to deny it, too.
The next best thing would be to swap to naturally compostable materials that can be discarded in new ways. Many industries — including food service, which relies heavily on plastic containers and similar materials — have identified this problem and are now making the necessary changes.
It’s not just about the compostable packaging materials that are available right now — it’s also about the future of the field. What’s most exciting to think about is how those materials will be used and what kind of items or goods will be created with them, beyond simple to-go and protective containers.
We could very well see compostable silverware, cups and beverage containers, shipping boxes, and so much more. The designs are still in their early stage, and widespread adoption has yet to reach a tipping point, but the potential is certainly there.
We may be on the precipice of high-level adoption, and there’s no telling how long it will be until compostable goods are a standard in the industry. However, it’s worth pointing out that many companies are moving toward more sustainable practices. The benefits are vast and stretch far beyond monetary and expense reductions.
Compostable packaging is cheaper than most alternatives, it’s reliably eco-friendly, and it can be disposed of using many unique or fresh methods — like placing it in a compost bin to create soil and nutrients for planters. It’s also good for the brand and helps generate positive consumer sentiment. It’s a healthy and more successful alternative to recycling. It’s also relatively new, which means the sky’s the limit in regards to application and adoption.
It’s not a stretch to say that compostable packaging and materials likely have a huge role to play in the future of the food service industry (and many other industries, as well).
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly covers trends in the industrial sector.