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Compostable Packaging Trial Shows Significant Increase in Consumer Participation and Decreased Contamination

Compostable Packaging Trial Shows Significant Increase in Consumer Participation and Decreased Contamination Bio-based, Compostable Packaging, food and drink packaging, food and drink sustainable packaging, Food packaging Food and Beverage Business

The Compostable Coalition UK, with advisory board members including M&S, Ocado and WWF, has reported a five-fold increase in consumers disposing of their compostable packaging in the food waste bin, in a first-of-its-kind consumer behaviour trial.

In a six-week trial with residents in Medway, 120 households were informed that they could dispose of compostable packaging in their food and garden waste bin. The disposal of compostable packaging in the food and garden waste bin is not currently mandatory nationally, and advice varies between local authorities.

The trial found that with clear communication and labelling, consumers were able to identify compostable packaging and dispose of it correctly, with contamination levels in these bins also dropping by the end of the testing period.

Throughout the trial, households received boxes with goods in both compostable and plastic packaging. Items included confectionery, snack food, fresh produce, tea bags, coffee pods, and shopping bags from retailers and brands including Co-Op, Ocado, Lipton Teas and Infusions among many others.

The compostable packaging was marked with newly developed labels by Hubbub, with input from OPRL. Households also received other educational resources designed by Hubbub, with insight from behavioural scientists at the University of Sheffield, which encouraged residents to check packaging labels, use their food waste bin, and explained the composting process.

Results showed that the new label, alongside the resources, helped households to correctly identify and dispose of compostable packaging.

The amount of food discarded in the food waste bin also increased by 23 percent while contamination levels in the food and garden waste bins dropped on average from nine percent to just three percent by the end of the trial.

Alongside the trial in Medway, the Coalition also undertook a successful composting trial at EnVar, one of the largest composting sites in the UK.

Here, 13 tonnes of compostable items including coffee pods, tea bags, fresh produce packaging, twist wraps, snack food packaging and single-use service-ware were tested for their effectiveness to biodegrade under the normal operating conditions of an industrial composting site.

Results showed that those products supplied in their ready-to-use state biodegraded successfully, with the finished compost passing PAS100 certification, the high-quality standard for compost in the UK.

While compostable  packaging  is designed to be collected and treated along with food and other bio-waste in industrial composters, only 51 percent of councils in the UK offer food waste collections, and 17 percent offer a co-mingled food and garden waste collection. However, many do not include compostable packaging as a target material due to contamination and processing concerns.

DEFRA’s new Simpler Recycling Reform mandates the collection of food waste from all households across England by 2026. The Compostable Coalition UK has been developing new data on compostable packaging, addressing DEFRA’s call under the Simpler Recycling Reform to review more evidence on compostables to “inform future guidelines”.

The Coalition will continue to engage with all key relevant stakeholders, to further disseminate results and identify where compostable packaging can be integrated with waste management systems where appropriate.

Laura Fernandez, Senior Packaging and Sustainability Manager at Ocado Retail said: “We were delighted to participate in this trial which has delivered such positive results. Ocado remains committed to continued collaboration with the industry to determine the role compostable packaging can play in the circular economy, especially when supported by an effective collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure.”

Alice Harlock, Director of Technical and Member Services OPRL said: “This trial reinforces the message that providing consumers with clear, visible labels can have a positive impact on both participation and contamination. The findings of the pilot back up OPRL’s own consumer research, which shows that consumers look for information on recycling at the point of disposal.

“In our survey, the majority – 54 per cent – also reported that the greatest barrier to recycling was confusion over whether items were recyclable. So we can be confident that tackling confusion with clear labels and instructions will help to drive greater volumes of material for recycling.”

Tom McBeth, Policy and Infrastructure Manager at RECOUP said: “Having conducted the analysis of the organic waste stream for 6-weeks during the trial, RECOUP witnessed a steady but noticeable decline in contamination of the food waste samples, as well as an increase in overall volumes of food waste disposed of correctly.

“More engagement would need to be done to help ensure a clean waste stream overall, but this really helped to show the importance of engagement with citizens with regards to disposal of their waste.”

Julia Schifter, VP Strategy Analysis, TIPA & Co-Founder, Compostable Coalition UK said: “Compostable Packaging offers a new way to achieve circularity for some of the most challenging hard-to-recycle’ plastics. Yet, the proper collection and treatment of compostables is key to achieve a full circularity for these products. The results of our study clearly prove that once consumers are provided with a label that positively instructs them where to discard such packages, their ability to behave accordingly increased dramatically.

“Moreover, it also increased their overall disposal of food waste in the food waste bin while significantly reducing contamination. These results, among other studies conducted by the Compostable Coalition UK, are aimed at servicing DEFRA’s future policy direction on compostable plastics and their role in addressing the planetary plastics waste crisis”.

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