The impact of compostable foodservice packaging

Tuesday, 04 April, 2017

A literature review has found encouraging evidence about the impact of compostable foodservice packaging on waste and contamination.

The review, by the Foodservice Packaging Institute, examined literature relating to the impact of compostable foodservice packaging at different points in the composting value chain. It found a growing body of evidence demonstrating that the use of compostable foodservice packaging can increase food scrap diversion and reduce contamination when used in conjunction with known best practices for food scraps collection.

The study examined how compostable foodservice packaging impacts:

  • composting program participation rates
  • food scraps diversion rates
  • contamination of composting feedstocks and finished compost
  • the composting process, compared with traditional carbon sources.

“As the use of compostable packaging grows, so too should the opportunities to successfully recover those items,” said FPI President Lynn Dyer. “When considering whether to accept foodservice packaging, composters may have questions about the impact on their programs, and this study helped to identify resources to answer those questions.”

This is a new area of study and, as such, the availability of relevant sources varies widely by topic area. However, the available data suggests that compostable foodservice packaging use, in conjunction with programs such as outreach, education, new infrastructure and desired behaviour models, can increase food scrap diversion rates and reduce observed contamination rates.

In order to realise the full benefits of compostable packaging, coordinated efforts around customer education are essential between manufacturers, operators, consumers, municipalities, haulers and composters, the study found.

A crucial gap identified in the available research is the extent to which compostable foodservice packaging compares to natural carbon sources typically used during composting. No data was found comparing their ability to balance compost carbon to nitrogen ratios, moisture content, porosity, composting rate, ammonia volatilisation and final compost properties.

“This review will help inform our strategies, investments and activities to increase the recovery of compostable cups, take-out containers and utensils used by an increasing number of foodservice outlets,” stated Dyer. “Information sharing and education among manufacturers, foodservice operators, consumers, municipalities, haulers and composters are critical to our collective success.”

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