Home Compostable packaging, also called degradable packaging, is packaging that you can use on your home compost pile. The terms compostable and biodegradable are sometimes used interchangeably, however, there is a considerable difference between the two. Home compostable materials break down more readily than biodegradable materials. Simply, home compostable packaging can be composted at home whereas biodegradable packaging needs commercial composting.
What Is Home Compostable?
Packaging labeled as home compostable packaging is made from plant starches like corn or wheat. This means it’s made from natural materials that are not only renewable, but that also decompose over time. Most home compostable packaging is BPA-free, environmentally friendly, and all-natural. Home compostable packaging is perfect for food, cosmetics, pet projects, and anything else you need to store around the house. Whether you’re storing food, cosmetics, or household products, you can take comfort in knowing that these packaging products will decompose over time.
When the packing is finished with, you can just drop it in the household compost bin or onto the compost pile with other materials such as leaves, grass clippings, or your fruit and vegetable scraps. Any home compostable packaging you add to your compost pile or compost bin decomposes into finished compost over time.
What to look out for with home compostable packaging?
It can be incredibly confusing because you will quite often see the term ‘compostable’ printed on an item of packaging. Great you think, I can just throw it on my compost pile or in my compost bin. This, though, would be a mistake as you are likely to find the packaging just doesn’t break down. This type of packaging is in fact meant to be commercially composted, you should place it in the relevant recycling bin and the local government will send it to a commercial composting facility.
Instead what you should look out for is ‘Home Compostable’ printed on the packaging. These are the items that you can throw on your home compost pile and they will happily break down into compost over a few months with the rest of your kitchen scraps and organic material.
What is Compostable Packaging?
Compostable packaging is packaging that is biodegradable packaging that can be composted. However, this can only be composted in a commercial composting facility. To speed the breakdown of the material, commercial composting centers process the packaging using an elevated heat process, usually with temperatures in excess of 150 degrees Fahrenheit, significantly higher than can generally be generated at home.
If you are particularly skilled in using hot composting techniques you might try to compost “compostable packaging” although the lack of a completely controlled environment will be a significant hindrance.
Commercial composting is a managed process that turns compostable packaging and organic waste into compost suitable for agricultural use. The process used in commercial composting operations involves the use of heat, oxygen, and moisture, much like normal composting but in highly controlled settings to ensure the swift and complete decomposition of the materials.
The commercial composting process is precisely managed. Everything from the right amounts of moisture, air, and carbon and nitrogen-rich materials is carefully controlled. A commercial composting plant augments the operation to make sure of the quick decomposition of organic waste by managing parameters such as cutting material to a similar size or governing the temperature and oxygen levels. This results in a uniform superior grade of finished compost.
Many biodegradable packaging options available in the market degrade exclusively in commercial composting units and are thus unsuitable for home composting.
What is home compostable and compostable packaging made from?
Most home compostable and compostable packaging is made from corn starch, sugar cane, or is paper-based. Both sugar cane and corn starched polymers made for packaging have similar attributes to petroleum-based plastics except that at the end of their use they can be composted
Some of these are suitable for composting in the home environment in compost piles or compost bins whilst the rest can be processed in commercial composting facilities This procedure may be completed in as little as 180 days in the correct facility and under the right circumstances.
For it to be legally classed as compostable packaging it must also necessitate that the finished product has no negative impact on the surrounding environment, for example, that it isn’t toxic.
What is the difference between home compostable and compostable packaging?
There is a significant difference between the two classes of packaging and the confusion arises because of the similarity in names. Both home composting and commercial composting result in nutrient-dense final compost. However, with strict environmental controls for the composting process, as you would expect, commercial composting produces a more even stand of finished compost.
Both forms of composting create a nutrient-rich compost at the end of the process. Industrial composting can sustain the temperature and stability of the compost more rigorously.
The obvious difference is that home compostable packaging can be put into your home compost pile or bin and it will breakdown into finished compost in the same way as kitchen scraps and organic materials
Composting materials on the other hand need to be commercially composted because they require a specific environment for the decomposition of the material to take place.
Another difference is the length of time it takes to decompose the material. With home compostable materials this can take months if using cold composting techniques, quietly breaking down into finished compost. You can speed the process up if you were to use hot composting.
With compostable packaging for commercial composting, for it to qualify it has to be able to be broken down into finished compost within a specific time span. This will vary from state to state or country to country but the main standard is 180 days.
Summary | Home Compostable Packaging
There is considerable misunderstanding about the difference between home compostable and compostable items and how to dispose of them. Not all of these items can be composted at home. For example, the majority of packaging labeled compostable must need a commercial composting facility for optimal decomposition.
At the conclusion of the processes, both home composting and commercial composting produce high nutrient-rich compost. For commercial composting to achieve complete decomposition it needs to more carefully maintain the temperature and stability during the composting process.
 Mistry M, Allaway D, Canepa P, and Rivin J., State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality: COMPOSTABLE – How well does it predict the life cycle environmental impacts of packaging and food service ware? p.5
Keith has been involved in the gardening and landscaping industry fro the past 21 years. From a jobbing gardener to running his own landscaping services. He is now dedicated to bringing you the latest in gardening news.