We were recently asked this question. While it is excellent to see more and more types of plastic being recycled, there are two important reasons why biodegradable is better. Firstly, compostable packaging is made from renewable plant material and secondly it returns to its natural elements in composting environments.
Most food packaging is plastic or contains plastic. According to Treevolution, only 17% of plastic gets recycled. Some ends up in landfills where it stays for generations and the rest pollutes our environment and our seas. We see devastating consequences of the effect this has over 5 years– huge patches of plastic waste the size of Texas in the ocean! In addition, many cases of wildlife ingesting plastic and / or getting entangled in plastic.
The main reason why we don’t see more plastic collected and “recycled” is that “recycled” plastic does not have as high an end use value as metal and glass so it ends up being not as commercially viable to “recycle”. In fact, plastic is most often downcycled. For example, a plastic bottle will rarely be a plastic bottle again, it will become something else of a lower value than it was originally.
When it comes to deciding what packaging to use, we believe planning should be approached in the following way.
- Avoid and reduce food packaging as much as possible.
- Find reusable packaging options.
- Use compostable, biodegradable packaging (and ensure it ends up in a compost facility).
- Make sure it’s recyclable.
In South Africa we have good recycling centres, and in some areas it is even a service offered by the local municipality. One big problem recyclers have is that they rarely accept food packaging that has been in contact with food unless it has been properly cleaned. This is called “contaminated waste”.
Contaminated waste is manageable in a home environment but in most cases where takeaway food is served, we are unable to clean the packaging before throwing it away. It gets disposed of in bins destined for landfill, frequently containing leftover food. In these scenarios we recommend using biodegradable food packaging. We’re talking about fast food, shopping malls and events where food is served, for example school events, sports events, festivals, markets, concerts, canteens etc.
Furthermore, we encourage our customers to collect packaging together with food waste in specially marked bins and send it away for composting. This is our favourite best case scenario because biodegradable packaging and the food won’t reach a landfill. It is sent away to become useful and can be used as compost to feed plants.
We like to support clients who hold truly Green events by offering a Green Event Incentive. If you are thinking of holding a market or event where biodegradable packaging and tableware is used, collected and composted, please contact your sales agent to ask how you can apply for this incentive.
Several clients have already adopted such a Green waste management ethos: