Abel & Cole is removing compostable plastics from its line of customizable fruit and vegetable boxes in response to new research suggesting that unless they are kept under specific conditions they will not decompose, contributing to plastic waste .
According to the company, compostable plastics can be just as harmful as their virgin counterparts if local waste collectors don’t have the right equipment to break them down. Among other studies, he cites UCL’s Big Compost Experiment, part of which involves an ongoing experiment on the decomposition of tea bags; since its launch in spring 2021, 59% of the Yorkshire Tea sachets tested are said to still be visible, alongside 31% of the PG Tips Original Biodegradable sachets and 30% of the Clipper Everyday Organic Biodegradable sachets.
As such, Abel & Cole has announced that it will work with its suppliers to eliminate these plastics from its packaging by the end of 2023. It is also working on expanding its range of Club Zero consumables and says it will continue to collect hard-to-recycle waste and flexible plastics from its customers through the Plastic Pick-Up program. The three commitments aim to contribute to the reduction of plastic pollution.
Laura Collacott of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reminded us that compostables are not a catch-all solution, with the term often confused with biodegradable and bio-based materials. Compostable packaging can be broken down “within a specific time frame and under specific conditions” – unlike biodegradable, which can break down at any rate and in any climate. As such, industrial decomposition is an energy-intensive process and may, according to some LCAs, have more environmental impact than non-compostable alternatives.
There are also concerns about the compatibility of compostable packaging with existing recycling systems, as well as their ability to fully protect the products they contain.
Nevertheless, such packaging is gaining popularity. For example, we recently spoke to Ritva Krist, marketing manager of start-up Traceless, about its second-generation biomass-based instant pellet solution, which is supposed to produce home-compostable liners, films and rigid packaging.