May 31, 2023
Composting & Compostable Packaging: An Overview
What is composting and why is it important?

Composting is the process of decomposing organic matter, such as food scraps, yard waste, and other natural materials, into a nutrient-rich soil amendment known as compost. This can be done in a variety of ways, including backyard composting, industrial or commercial scale composting, or vermiculture (using worms to break down organic matter).In general, a compost requires three key things to make it work:

Requirements for composting - heat, moisture, microbial activity

Society has been composting for centuries. It is a critical tool for sustainable agriculture and waste management. It helps reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in landfills, where it can generate harmful greenhouse gasses like methane (84 times more potent than CO2). By composting, we can divert this waste from landfills (this can potentially result in savings on council rates for households and businesses) and instead use it to create a valuable resource for our gardens and landscapes.

Compost also improves soil health by adding organic matter, which helps retain moisture, improves soil structure, and provides nutrients for plants. The use of compost can help reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which can be harmful to both the environment and human health.

What is the difference between Home Composting and Industrial (commercial) composting?
Examples of compostable packaging

Home composting and commercial composting differ in their scale, management, and end use. Home composting is typically done on a small scale, such as in a backyard or on a balcony, and involves processing organic waste from the household, such as food scraps and yard waste. It can be done using a variety of methods, such as compost bins, compost tumblers, or vermiculture, and can produce a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can be used to improve soil health in home gardens and landscaping.

Commercial composting, on the other hand, is done on a larger scale and typically involves the collection and composting of organic waste from multiple sources, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses. Commercial composting facilities use specialized equipment and techniques to compost the organic waste quickly and efficiently, and may produce a variety of end products, such as soil amendments, mulches, and fertilizers, that are sold to consumers, farmers, and landscapers.

Temperature required for home composting vs industrial composting of packaging

Probably the most important differentiating factor is that commercial composting facilities generally run at a much higher temperature than home composts, generally 50-60C (122-140 degrees Fahrenheit) as opposed to 20-30C (68-86 degrees Fahrenheit), and it is that additional temperature that helps process the organic matter with greater speed.

What are the major composting certifications?

Different regions have different compostability certifications. The three main certification bodies by region are below:

Major composting certificatoins - TUV, BPI, ABA

Broadly these certifications follow similar foundational rules for both home and industrial conditions.

What is compostable packaging and why is it important from a sustainability perspective?

Compostable packaging products are generally made from biodegradable materials, such as cornstarch, sugarcane, or other plant-based sources, and are designed to break down into compostable material in a composting environment. Compostable packaging has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of traditional packaging materials, such as plastic, which are non-biodegradable and often end up in landfills or pollute the environment.

There are a number of potential benefits from the use of compostable packaging materials:

  1. They can be produced from renewable resources, such as plant-based sources, rather than fossil fuels. This can reduce the environmental impact associated with extracting and processing fossil fuels.
  2. It can be processed back into organic matter in a composting environment, such as a commercial composting facility or backyard composting system. This means it can be diverted from landfills and used to create nutrient-rich soil amendments.
  3. It can reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment. Plastic packaging can take hundreds of years to break down, and often ends up polluting the oceans and harming wildlife. Compostable packaging, on the other hand, can break down much more quickly and without harming the environment.

Compostable packaging materials are absolutely not the right answer for every industry but they definitely have an important role to play in the creation of a circular economy and for effectively processing materials that would otherwise not be able to be recycled. Although there is no one right answer or silver bullet, at Grounded we believe that compostable packaging materials are best suited to two two particular use cases:

  1. For food products that leave considerable residue on the packaging and otherwise render those packaging products unable to be recycled.
  2. In developing economies that have limited access to waste management infrastructure, where the chance of packaging materials ending up in the environment are high.

What is compostable packaging made of?
Layers used in compostable packaging

Not all compostable packaging materials are created equal. They can be manufactured in a range of ways and they can be very different. Some of the more common bioplastics are below:

  • **Polylactic Acid (PLA)- ** - a 100% biobased that can be used in most forms of plastic manufacturing including both rigid and flexible plastic. PLA tends to be only suitable for industrial composting conditions.
  • Bio-PBS - is made from renewable sources such as corn, sugar, beet or cassava starches. Generally it is made from 50-60% biobased content and can be suitable for home or industrial composting.
  • PHA - is typically derived from renewable resources such as vegetable oils and starches. PHA is unusual in that it can be formulated to break down in marine environments and some PHA materials carry marine degradable certification from TUV. It can also be suitable for home or industrial composting.
  • PBAT - a 100% fossil fuel derived polymer which is rapidly biodegradable and often forms the basis of compostable retail / e-commerce packaging like mailers and poly bags. Cellulose - a 100% plant derived material that is used for making paper products, moulded fiber and it can also be used to make transparent films (cellophane).

There are other types of compostable bioplastic but these are the most commonly used and they are often blended together to create materials with differing functional properties. It is important to be aware of how they have been produced and whether they rely on renewable materials or fossil fuels.

What is the difference between Compostable and Biodegradable?

The term “biodegradable” can be ambiguous and misleading. It suggests that a product will break down completely and harmlessly in the environment, when in reality, the rate and conditions of biodegradation vary widely depending on a broad range of factors such as temperature, humidity and the presence of other substances.In some cases, products labeled as “biodegradable” may actually be harmful to the environment or wildlife, especially if they break down into smaller, persistent microplastic particles that can be ingested by animals and enter the food chain.

To address these concerns, some countries and regions have established guidelines for more specific and accurate environmental labeling. In a number of places around the world, the use of the term 'biodegradable' has been restricted and instead materials need to be labeled to indicate whether they have been tested and verified to break down into harmless substances, within a certain timeframe and under specific conditions.

What is the difference between composting and recycling?

Composting and recycling are both methods for reducing waste and promoting sustainability, but they differ in the materials they process and the end products they produce.


Involves collecting and processing materials such as paper, plastic, glass, and metal to create new products. Recycling usually involves a complex industrial process that transforms the material into a new product, which can be the same as the original material or a different product altogether.


On the other hand, involves the natural process of breaking down organic materials such as food scraps, yard waste, and other natural materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. The end product of composting is a dark, crumbly substance that can be used as a fertilizer in gardens, landscaping, and agriculture.

The central difference between composting and recycling is the type of waste they process. Composting focuses on organic waste, while recycling focuses on inorganic materials such as paper, plastic, glass, and metal. Additionally, recycling typically requires an industrial process to transform the material into a new product, while composting relies on the natural process of decomposition.

Both composting and recycling are important tools for reducing waste and promoting sustainability, and they can complement each other in a comprehensive waste management system.

How to compost packaging at home
Packaging being composted in soil

Firstly - make sure that the packaging you're wanting to compost is free from any additional materials or labels that are not compostable. Often items like mailers can have other materials added to them like delivery labels.

The next thing you should do is look for a certified home compostable logo on the packaging. This logo ensures that the material has been certified by a reputable organization to be able to be processed in home composting conditions.

Step 1: Sort the Packaging and ideally shred into smaller pieces

Once you've found packaging with a certified home compostable logo, you can start collecting it in a compost bin. We've found that you can also speed the process up if you tear/ break the packaging down into bits before placing it into the compost bin. Avoid packaging that is labeled biodegradable, as this material may not fully break down in your home compost.

Step 2: Add other compostable materials

To ensure proper decomposition, mix the home compostable packaging with other organic materials like food scraps, yard waste, and other compostable items. This will create a balanced mix of carbon and nitrogen that will help break down the packaging.

Step 3: Water the compost

Water your compost to keep it moist. If it's too dry, it won't break down properly. However, be careful not to overwater, as this can also slow down the composting process.

Step 4: Turn the compost

To ensure proper aeration, turn the compost pile every few weeks. This will help to distribute oxygen and promote the growth of helpful bacteria, which will break down the packaging faster.

Step 5: Be patient

After 180 days minimum, 90% of the plastic materials should disintegrate into less than 2mm pieces in compost, and completely biodegrade after 12 months. The compost should have no toxic effect on plants and fauna. Once fully broken down, the compost can be used in your garden to help plants grow.

Remember to look for a certified home compostable logo before collecting the packaging, and always mix it with other compostable materials to ensure proper decomposition. With a little bit of effort, you can turn your waste into a valuable resource for your garden.

What is the difference between composting and counter-top food cyclers like Lomi?
Difference between composting vs counter top food cyclers like Lomi

Composting and countertop food cyclers like Lomi both involve processing organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, but they differ in their scale and method. Composting typically involves collecting a variety of organic materials, such as food scraps, yard waste, and other natural materials, and combining them in a compost bin or heap. Over time, microorganisms break down the materials into a rich soil amendment that can be used to improve soil health.

Countertop food cyclers, like Lomi, are designed to process food scraps only, typically in a smaller quantity, and using a more controlled environment. These devices use a combination of heat, grinding, and other processes to break down food waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used for houseplants or small gardens.

While composting requires some space, time, and management, countertop food cyclers offer a convenient and compact solution for people who want to reduce their food waste and create a valuable resource for their indoor plants or small outdoor spaces.

Both composting and countertop food cyclers are valuable tools for reducing waste, improving soil health, and promoting sustainable practices. The choice between the two depends on individual needs, space availability, and the amount of organic waste generated.

Will compostable packaging breakdown in food cyclers?

Most compostable packaging will not break down in food cyclers like Lomi. Compostable materials require the combination of those three key factors mentioned earlier:

Requirements for composting - heat, moisture, microbial activity

Importantly, composting also requires time. Grounded is working on some potential materials that may work in bench top food cyclers but as yet these are still in the R&D stage. Keep an eye out for any further news in this space.

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