Paper cup sitting on a table that is both compostable and biodegradable
Paper cup sitting on a table that is both compostable and biodegradable

Compostable Food Packaging: What It Is & What It Means

Compostable Food Packaging: What It Is & What It Means

Everyone wants to do better for the environment, which is why there is a significant shift toward compostable food packaging. But, you might wonder, what exactly is compostable food packaging? We’re here to help! Let’s review the basics of compostable packaging, different types of compostable food packaging, what to compost at an industrial facility, and what to compost at home.

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What is Compostable Food Packaging?

Compostable packaging means that the package that holds your food or beverage is capable of breaking down into natural elements, such as soil, within a composting environment. Compostable paper packaging gets processed into organic material that decays into compost, which is used to fertilize the soil and leaves no toxicity behind. However, compostable packaging comes in various types, some of which are more sustainable than others.

Different Types of Compostable Paper Food Packaging

You can choose from a variety of compostable packaging products, including these materials.

  • PLA (Polylactic Acid): This bioplastic is made from corn used often with compostable cups.
  • Wheat Straw Fiber: This fibrous plant is used as an alternative to other tree-based food containers and paper products.
  • Recycled Paper: From coffee cups to compostable bowls, recycled paper continues to grow in popularity. You will also find this material in reusable shopping bags and with PLA-lined products.
  • TPLA & CPLA: These are PLA variations. tPLA is talc-injected that is used because of its strength and rigidity, often used for utensils. cPLA is a crystallized type of PLA boasting strength and heat resistance, which is why it is often used for coffee cup lids.
  • Bagasse/Sugarcane Fiber: As a renewable fiber, this sugarcane byproduct is used as a paper replacement.

How to Start Composting Your Food Packaging

For some people, it is easier to take the items for composting to a local facility, while others prefer to start a composting bin at home. In either situation, you can generally compost the same types of items. Store your items in a freezer if you plan to take them to a local facility. When the container is full, you can drop it off. Some composting facilities offer pick-up services just like curbside recycling, so be sure to search your local area. Otherwise, if you choose to compost at home, you can put the materials in your bin anytime.

Can You Compost Certain Types of Plastic Food Packaging?

Yes, there are plastics made that can be compostable, recyclable, or biodegradable. Compostable plastic is considered to be biodegradable, but biodegradable plastics aren’t compostable because they are engineering to degrade in soil or water not soil conditioning material. Compostable plastic degrades into soil conditioning material under the right conditions. These materials are often better dropped off at a composting facility. To be biodegradable, the package must be capable of decomposing by natural elements and bacteria.

Food Packaging That Should Not Go into Compost Bin and Why

Some items aren’t meant to be composted. If you want to know what not to compost, consider these two materials.

  • Coated cardboard packaging: Food packaging with a foil or plastic layer should never go into the compost pile. This means you should avoid putting any milk cartons, juice boxes, wax-lined paper cups, and foil-lined paper bags into the compost pile. Additionally, and unfortunately, most single-serve coffee cups are not recyclable or compostable.
  • Bioplastic packaging: Unless a product has been certified to be compostable at home, you might run into trouble. Many companies claim to have biodegradable packaging that is compostable, but that doesn’t mean that the packaging is really compostable nor does it inform you where that package can be composted. Normally, compostable packaging needs to be sent to an industrial composting facility, where temperatures are much hotter than at a home compost pile.

Home vs. Industrial Facility Composting: What’s the Difference?

Example of a home composting bin setup near a garden
Home Composting
Example of an industrial composting facility showing the soil after-product
Industrial Composting

When you compost at home, there are many items you won’t include because of the smell or difficulty activating the breakdown process. While home composting is easy to do, it might not be the best solution for every material. There is special equipment at the industrial composting facility that breaks down the tougher materials such as meat, fish scraps, and dairy. Commercial composting allows items to break down much faster and more efficiently, but it also requires you to take your scraps off-site.

Truly Sustainable & Industrial Compostable Paper Food Packaging from Greener Shapes

Compostable paper food and beverage packaging products available at Greener Shapes

At Greener Shapes, we create our products from sustainable, eco-friendly, industrial-compostable paper packing materials. We want to reduce the footprint of your business to meet the growing demands of your customers. Talk to us today about your compostable paper packaging needs.

Our Compostable Paper Packaging