This Monday, as part of our Material Monday articles, we publish highlights from the talk by Gary Tee, in which he demystifies “What are compostable plastics?” by comprehensively explaining origin, resources and production of this material.
Gary Tee is a packaging professional specialising in sustainable and flexible biomaterials that are compostable and a Sales Director at TIPA®. He is also interested in all aspects of the industry from print, lamination, pack design and machinery. TIPA® is a flexible packaging manufacturer based in Israel and at the end of 2019 joined the New Plastics Economy’s Global Plastics Commitment, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UN Environment, to address plastic waste and pollution at its source. (Read more about New Plastics Economy here.) The company was funded on the principle of creating packaging with a more positive and well-defined end of life, i.e. disposal.
The key message of Gary’s talk is “composting returns back to nature”, and for this reason, TIPA® focused on solving global issues of single-use packaging films by coming up with an alternative proposition that turns them into an ingredient that can be used as soil moisturiser. This aims to be aligned with a long-awaited Resources & Waste Strategy report, in which the UK government has outlined a comprehensive new plan for recycling a range of materials, including food waste. Respectively, the government’s strategy sets out an ambition for all homes as well as suitable businesses in England to have access to food waste collections by 2023. TIPA® is lobbying for flexible films, which are compostable, to always flow with the food waste stream. It’s worth noting that the alternative – flexible films made out of oil derived resources – is non-recyclable.
But let’s take a step back for a second and define what does it mean for the material to be compostable?
Composting is basically a human-controlled process of biodegradation, ensuring optimal conditions for the microbes in order to reach results faster than in ordinary biodegradation process. It recycles various organic materials – otherwise regarded as waste products – and produces a soil conditioner that is used to replenish the lost topsoil in the farming fields to enable us to increase the yield from farming and consequently the crops that we grow. This means that by taking value A and using it to make value B, composting process is an end of life solution for a mixed loop material lifecycle.
This can be done on an industrial scale or home compost. A consumer can understand the type of disposal (industrial or home compost) through annotation of relevant certifications, local legislation and most importantly by an informative label design with latter being of biggest importance.
Just as with traditional recycling, composting rates depend greatly on the infrastructure available, meaning how many facilities are in place to accept compostable materials for processing. Another layer to the infrastructure issue is collection that is not as developed as recycling, yet Resource & Waster Strategy report aims to improve this by 2023 as outlined above.
How can flexible films be compostable?
To produce such material TIPA® uses biopolymer/bioplastic blends, which are compostable. These formulations are intended to be fragile by design. This means that the chemical bonds are much easier to break then in conventional plastics and (after the bonds are broken) are also easily digestible by microbes. Nevertheless, this is a challenging process that requires vast amounts of R&D as the chemists need to come up with the right configuration that is not only compostable, but ultimately has the right features such as barriers to replace conventional plastics. Lastly, once formulated, the material needs to go through thorough lab testing, where it’s being checked for its possible impact on the environment (i.e. microbes and soil).
To find out more about compostable plastics and watch Gary’s talk please follow the link here. Also, make sure to watch the other “Sustainable Materials” talks available on our YouTube channel here! If you have any questions, feel free to comment here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above: This video is part of Sustainable Materials talk series. It demystifies compostable plastics by comprehensively explaining origin, resources and production of this material.