1 January 2023 saw the UK replace its previous packaging waste regulations with the new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation which forced businesses to look at their packaging choices and become more responsible for the packaging waste they produce.

Compostable, flexible packaging provider TIPA, which was founded in 2010, believes the use of compostable packaging would significantly cut down on the amount of plastic waste generated by fast fashion and online shopping. Compostable packaging is seen as an eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastics as it can be fully decomposed in six to 12 months and TIPA sees this as a suitable alternative material to single-use plastics which could save a vast number of plastic bags from ending up in landfill.

CEO and co-founder of compostable packaging company TIPA, Daphna Nissenbaum
TIPA CEO and co-founder Daphna Nissenbaum says that the company was created to address the challenge that flexible conventional plastic packaging poses to the environment and offer an alternative solution.

Packaging Gateway’s Ryan Ellington spoke to CEO and co-founder of TIPA, Daphna Nissenbaum, on why compostable packaging has a role to play in the future of packaging.

What challenges do businesses face when moving towards compostable plastics?

To their credit, many brands and retailers are showing considerable leadership in switching from conventional plastic to using compostable plastic for products ranging from tea bags to packaging for snacks, fresh produce and frozen food. As is the case with many eco-friendly products, however, protecting the environment often comes at an increased cost to retailers in the short term. 

Now that we are facing an economic downturn, the higher price of compostable plastics relative to conventional plastic poses an even greater challenge for brands and retailers. The hope is that retailers will be able to look past short-term costs and see the greater picture. A recent TIPA-commissioned survey suggests businesses that adopt more compostable packaging will be supported by high consumer demand. The survey polled the response of 1,734 UK adults and found 89% of those surveyed supported local councils being required to collect all compostable packaging from households.

Businesses also have to contend with UK policy frameworks that are currently hindering the ability of the compostables industry to fully expand its surrounding infrastructure. This would no longer be a challenge if the UK Government mandated that compostables were widely collected from the kerbside and organically recycled along with food waste.

How do compostable plastics differ to rPET and PET?

PET, polyethylene terephthalate is a plastic material made from polymer chains used for many food containers. Recycled PET or PET are not biodegradable. Conventional plastics, recycled or not, do not biodegrade for two reasons: firstly, because their chemical bonds are too strong and secondly, because their molecules will not break down through natural processes. Compostable plastic will biodegrade in a specific compost environment, by being exposed to heat, humidity, and oxygen.

How long does it take for compostable plastics to decompose?

In industrial compost conditions (controlled aerobic environments), the packaging will break down within three months and will fully biodegrade within six months. In home compost conditions (ambient temperature in a home composter), these processes will take up to six and 12 months respectively.

What is the potential global impact of compostable packaging?

According to a report by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which was published in early November 2022, the world is at risk of not meeting its plastic pact targets. Investing in innovation and re-thinking the design of plastic packaging is crucial: we cannot recycle our way out of plastic pollution.

With only 9% of plastics being recycled it is important to consider compostable plastics as another solution to reducing global warming. If businesses and consumers were to take no action, and not change their habits, the annual rate of plastic waste ending up in our oceans will increase by 300% and a number of animals will go extinct due to eating or becoming trapped in plastic such as already endangered monk seals and Pacific sea turtles. 

From 2000 to 2010, the world had already produced more plastic than all the plastic in history up until then. Global plastics production doubled from 2000 to 2019 to reach 460 million tonnes and plastics account for 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The world is  absolutely surrounded by plastic and already heading straight into a crisis.

Adopting a zero-waste strategy and moving to compostable plastic packaging will be beneficial to oceans, forests, cities and agricultural land. At TIPA we are offering an alternative solution to flexible packaging that is essential for a transition towards a circular economy and to a more sustainable future. A circular economy could cut the volume of plastics entering the oceans by 80% each year and could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25%.

When compostable packaging breaks down in composting facilities or in backyard compost piles, it does not produce methane. Composting is an effective method for reducing methane emissions from organic waste that is currently stored or disposed of in landfills. Composting the organic packaging creates a carbon-rich soil that can be used anywhere, from potted plants to commercial farms.

What can government legislation do to support and aid the collection of compostable plastics?

I am proud that through TIPA, we have initiated the Compostable Coalition to work alongside industry partners and stakeholders across our value chain to collaboratively develop a roadmap for the UK Government to play its part in effectively collecting and treating compostables at scale through existing biowaste infrastructures. It is essential the Government takes this into account if it is truly committed to achieving its plastic reduction target with 70% of plastic packaging being effectively recycled or composted by 2025.

The Government has a key role to play in mandating all compostable packaging to be collected alongside food waste. This will greatly help to facilitate the replacement of hard-to-recycle plastics, especially flexible plastics which are currently not fit for recycling and make up 25% of our plastic waste.  

The Government could also follow the recommendations of the UK Parliament’s EFRA Select Committee and ensure that funds raised from DEFRA’s Extended Producer Responsibility reforms are invested in organic recycling infrastructure to support the growth of the nascent compostable industry in the UK.

What is your stance on the global plastic treaty?

While the UN Global Plastic Treaty is a good initiative to align all countries to a shared vision, it is important to remember that consumers have the power to transition to a zero-waste strategy. Everyone has to reduce the amount of plastic that is produced and consumed, especially flexible plastic packaging which makes up 25% of global plastic waste. There is extremely strong consumer support for flexible plastic alternatives such as compostable packaging. It is time for governments to listen and to lead in the green transition.