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3 min read

Don’t we all secretly love the convenience of single-use? Especially in the summer months, when we’re having fun at festivals, on holiday or on a day out. And now the ‘green option' of compostables has become the norm, single-use is all good again,  right?

Well, no actually....

Switching from single-use plastic packaging to vegware or other ‘compostable’ alternatives seems like a convenient solution, and it’s been marketed incredibly well as just that. It all seems so green & eco-friendly.  Compostables require less CO2 emissions to produce than plastics, and are made from plants. So far so good. 

Unfortunately this is where the ‘eco’ credentials end. The word ‘compostable’ suggests that they naturally break down in any organic environment, much like orange peel, but this is not the case.

So what do they mean when they say ‘compostable’?

Bioplastic packaging is often only able to be 'commercially composted’. It can only break down under very specific industrial composting processes which require specialised conditions and take quite a while (up to 12 weeks) to break down completely.

This means you can’t actually dispose of your vegware cup in your food waste bin as you’d expect. If you do, you’ll find that, much like a conventional plastic cup, it would remain in its current form for a very... long... time.

Here is a handy chart from  Sifted that explains the difference between the packaging terms:

Diagram of different types of plastic

Okay so where can we compost these products properly?

The biggest problem is that across the UK, waste facilities that are able to process compostable bioplastics are lacking - only  51% of English households have access to compost facilities (far less use them) and  only one Welsh council offers these facilities. This means that the Vegware you thought was being processed into compost, is actually being sent to the landfill. Sneaky.

Not only that, but most people use these products when out and about and when was the last time you saw a compost bin on the street? Even if councils accepted these products - it's often not convenient enough for people to make use of it regularly.

What happens if these products make their way into the wrong bin?

Due to the current confusion around these products, they’re likely to cause more issues in their disposal than the benefits gained in their production. That’s because they can contaminate recycling (as they cannot be recycled unlike normal plastics and the recycling plants don’t yet have the technology to detect them) and, if you put compostable packing in the general waste bin, it may never break down, but if it does it will emit methane.

So what is the alternative? 

The alternative is to embrace reusables in all their glory! Instead of switching one single-use product for another, we need to be addressing our single-use lifestyles. We need to unlearn our reliance on plastic and make a shift away from the throwaway culture that has become so endemic. It’s not the easiest, but it’s pretty simple and definitely achievable. So, every time you refill your keepcup or water bottle just remember you are doing your bit to create a new re-use culture. And we'll just keep doing it, until it's the new normal. 

Want to read more about bioplastics and compostables --> City to Sea have ALL the detail on their blog here!

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