Nathan Dube

By: Nathan Dube on September 16th, 2021

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Is Compostable Packaging Really Biodegradable?

Packaging Materials | Environment

Maybe you are a business owner who is environmentally conscious and concerned about the impact of your packaging materials on our planet earth.


Then again, you could be hyper-focused on your customer's feelings about sustainability and the environment. Or perhaps you are both.


Either way, you spent a fair amount of time researching different types of environmentally friendly and sustainable packaging materials.


You have considered various options such as flexible packaging, recyclable packaging, bio-based packaging, and compostable packaging.


After reviewing the various types of sustainable packaging supplies currently available, you have taken a keen and penetrating interest in compostable packaging.


From the surface level, compostable packaging seems like a miracle cure for the detrimental effects of traditional plastic packaging supplies.


You are hoping that you can use these supplies to make your business far more green. However, you are not sure how compostable packaging actually works once it has reached your customer. And, you want to know if compostable packaging is fully biodegradable.


With decades in the packaging industry, Industrial Packaging has had our thumb on the pulse of compostable packaging since the day it arrived on the market.


This article will explain the complexities of compostable packaging and reveal the truth of the situation regarding the question, "is compostable packaging really biodegradable?"




Can You Throw Compostable Packaging On The Ground And Have It Biodegrade?


Absolutely not.


Many people assume that compostable packaging can just be thrown on the ground. They think it will biodegrade quickly over a short time.




Unfortunately, that is not true at all. I know that may come as a shock. But, compostable packaging is way more complicated than that.


Throwing compostable packaging materials on the ground is littering (and, in many places, a crime). It also prevents the material's ability to biodegrade.


compostable packaging question


So, Is Compostable Packaging Actually Biodegradable?


The short answer to this question is yes, compostable packaging is technically biodegradable. However, this truth comes with a couple of caveats.


For compostable packaging to make sense from an environmental standpoint, it has to be properly composted. As mentioned above, you can't just leave a compostable cup in the woods and assume it will adequately biodegrade. Why? Because it won't.


The hard truth is that for compostable packaging to biodegrade, it needs to be composted in one of two precise ways.


Doubtful 3D man with a question mark - isolated on white


How Is Compostable Packaging Properly Biodegraded?


compostable packaging heap


1. Home Composting


Your first option is to start a home compost pile. This is a process in which you combine elements such as hay, dirt, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, coffee grinds, and other organic materials into a pile.


Over time, microbes and other tiny critters living in the pile will help to biodegrade the materials contained within. When done correctly, a home compost pile is one way in which you can actually help your compostable packaging materials biodegrade properly.


However, it should be noted that not all compostable packaging materials can be composted in a homemade compost pile. In many cases, the materials will only biodegrade when processed at an industrial composting facility.




2. Industrial Composting Facilities


Your second option for ensuring that your compostable packaging materials actually biodegrade is to send them to an industrial composting facility. It is essential to reiterate; some compostable packaging can only be composted at an industrial composting site. 


Industrial composting facilities are specialized waste management companies that produce large quantities of compost. They will often sell the compost to garden centers, municipalities, and larger businesses that will use the material as landscaping supplies.




These facilities are often quite large and will have a fleet of trucks similar to a traditional waste management company, which is to say, garbage collectors.


To compost your compostable packaging at an industrial composting facility, you need to have access to a composting bin or hopper provided by the facility.




These are large containers and barrels similar to those that you see for home and industrial single-stream recycling. If you have single-stream recycling at your house, you have an idea of what the bins look like.


recycling bin


Not unlike traditional waste management companies, industrial composting facilities will distribute hoppers and bins to communities in which they have a contract. Trucks will come to collect and empty the bins and containers regularly. The compostable materials will be sent to the industrial composting site for processing.


What If You Can't Use Home Or Industrial Composting?


Unfortunately, in this case, you have only one option for your compostable packaging materials. Throw them in the trash. Compostable packaging materials are nearly impossible to recycle most of the time, and most recycling facilities cannot recycle them.


And, while you might think they will biodegrade in the landfill, this is not the case. This is especially true if you use traditional plastic trash bags, which can take over 1,000 years to biodegrade.


When Does The Use Of Compostable Packaging Materials Make Sense?


With the information in this article, you are probably starting to formulate an idea about whether or not compostable packaging is a good fit for your business.


But the question remains, when does it make sense for your business to use compostable packaging materials? Would you like to learn about the appropriate situations in which compostable packaging would be a good fit for your company?


Suppose you would like to learn more about the environments in which implementing compostable packaging would make sense for you and your customers. In that case, you may want to read this sister article When Does The Use Of Compostable Packaging Materials Make Sense?


With the information in this article, you will be able to decide if compostable packaging is right for your business or not. And, if it isn't, there will be a selection of alternatives that may be better sustainable packaging options for your needs.


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About Nathan Dube

As the Digital Marketing Specialist at Industrial Packaging, I am honored to create content for such a phenomenal company and work with one of the greatest teams in the Packaging Industry. Whether creating a video, writing blog posts or generating other pieces of content and multimedia, I am always excited to help educate and inspire our prospects and clients to reach their highest potential in regards to their packaging processes and needs.