The shift to products which are described as degradable, biodegradable and/or compostable has increased as companies seek alternatives to plastic.
However New Zealand does not yet have a standard for compostable packaging nor does the current infrastructure take most of these products in the volumes presented which means they will mostly end up in a landfill.
Lyn Mayes, Manager of The Public Place Recycling Scheme, is concerned that not enough people realise that there is limited infrastructure for accepting compostable packaging in New Zealand at present.
“We need to be clear that as of this moment and for the immediate future New Zealand has not got a national composting infrastructure for packaging. Compostable bags and packaging should not be put into kerbside composting bins (unless local arrangements exist) nor should they be put into the Soft Plastic Recycling Bins which the Packaging Forum operates at supermarkets and other retailers,” says Mayes.
“Compostable containers are no different from plastic containers if they are litter and pollute our oceans. They aren’t recyclable and can only be composted where special collection arrangements are in place. There are however, some amazing companies who are working hard to find solutions to this problem in New Zealand”
In 2017 The Packaging Forum commissioned waste consultancy Beyond the Bin to identify the barriers for compost facilities in accepting compostable packaging and to determine the availability of facilities.
11 facilities said that they were able to take compostable packaging where they had approved a supplier/product range and where collection systems were in place.
Following this research, The Packaging Forum established an independent technical working group (Compostable Packaging Standard Adoption Working Group (CPSA-WG)) comprising composters, manufacturers, waste industry, central and local government and research institutions to assess existing international standards and to recommend a NZ standard.
Kim Renshaw from Beyond the Bin acts as an independent facilitator of the working group and was pleased to have specialists assess the situation.
“It’s fantastic to have technical experts work towards a solution. There is a lot of confusion because we don’t currently have a standard but if we can find a way through, it will really make a difference for composters, packaging companies and consumers,” said Renshaw.
“The rapid increase and variation in compostable packaging means we need a standard that covers all types of compostable packaging which are connected to food or agriculture nutrients.”
The CPSA-WG will identify whether the NZ composting industry and other stakeholder requirements can be met by one of the existing international standards such as the well-known European EN13432 standard or the Australian AS4736 standard.
This involves comprehensive research and collation of requirements and a technical analysis of the existing international standards. Any recommendation will be followed by consultation and stakeholder engagement with the desired outcome to have a proposal in place by the end of the year.
Lyn Mayes also says,
“Having composters, manufacturers, waste experts and scientists around the table is critical to verify whether the products coming into New Zealand can be composted in our facilities.”
“We are primarily looking at commercial composting solutions however, home composting is another challenge entirely with the diversity of home composting systems already available in some places.”
If a standard is to be adopted, it would enable identification of compostable packaging that meets clear guidelines agreed with by the NZ composting industry. Industry and government would then be able to assess development of collection systems and investment into comprehensive infrastructure to process compostable packaging.