Let’s discuss “compostable” packaging.

Eco-friendly, a fraud, or what?

John Rbeiz

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When “compostable” packaging began to appear, I thought they were a game changer. I discovered them back in 2017, in an organic store in Melbourne, where I used to treat myself to smoothies every now and then. These smoothies were delivered in disposable cups…but “compostable” ones! I loved it. Nothing like a guilt-free purchase! It even felt like I was saving the planet one smoothie at a time…imagine.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long til I discovered the dark side. I never wanted to hear about “compostable” packaging again, I felt betrayed, I didn’t know who to blame, the café, the manufacturer, the council…Back then, I just walked away from it and didn’t looked back, until recently.

Since it’s International compost awareness week, I thought of going over the events again to unpack the real issue with “compostable” packaging, and consider ways we can make them work like they were intended to.

The defining moment

It’s the “how I found out” that hurt the most. I left early from work to enjoy some afternoon sun in the city, I grabbed my favourite smoothie on my way, and strolled around town freely, enjoying Melbourne’s awesome street performances. I was enjoying myself, until I got to the bottom of my smoothie and went looking for a bin. That’s when it all hit me.

The voice in my head started analysing the situation.

  • “Okay so it’s a “compostable” cup. Definitely not landill…”
  • “But also definitely not recycling…Although it does feel and look like plastic…Put it in the yellow bin?”
  • “No don’t do it…It says “compostable”, just take it home and figure it out later”

And so I did…I took it home. It felt so strange to put it in our home compost, so I considered putting it in our Green bin (garden and food waste), it still didn’t feel right though…No information on compostable packaging on council’s website, so I moved to look for information on the manufacturer’s website and that’s when I found out that these products — which are meant to be a pinnacle of sustainability — can only be commercially composted in centralised composting facilities where the compost is…

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John Rbeiz

Passionate about growth, sustainability and community development.