A study by industry collaboration the Composting Consortium has found that certified food-contact compostable packaging breaks down successfully. 

The report, titled ‘Breaking It Down: The Realities of Compostable Packaging Disintegration in Composting Systems,’ presents the outcomes of an 18-month research project. 

This research is said to be the largest known field test of certified, food-contact compostable packaging in North America. 

The study tested more than 23,000 units of compostable packaging, including 31 types of fibre and compostable plastic products, such as polylactic acid and polyhydroxyalkanoates.

The testing was conducted across ten diverse composting facilities in the US, examining how these materials break down in real-world composting environments. 

The findings indicate that compostable packaging generally disintegrates effectively within composting facilities that adhere to reasonable operational parameters.  

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Compostable plastic packaging and products achieved a 98% disintegration rate on average by surface area across five composting methods, surpassing the industry’s 90% disintegration threshold.  

Similarly, the fibre packaging and products showed an average disintegration rate of 83% by surface area, meeting the 80% industry threshold. 

The study highlights that operational conditions such as turning, agitation, and maintaining moisture levels above 50% are conducive to the disintegration of fibre-based packaging and products.  

These results underscore the potential of certified food-contact compostable packaging as a sustainable alternative to conventional single-use plastic packaging. 

The Composting Consortium is led by the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners, alongside brand and industry partners, the US Composting Council, the Compost Research and Education Foundation, and other groups. 

The collaboration plans to use these insights to guide policymaking and update best management practices for composting facilities.  

The data will also contribute to the Compostable Field Testing Program, which aims to launch an open-source database on compostable packaging disintegration. 

In addition, ASTM International will incorporate data from the study to refine the draft field testing method, which is currently under development. 

Compost Research and Education Foundation executive director Diane Hazard said: “The collaborative approach and open-source data from this project both advances field testing methods and equips compost manufacturers and brands with the knowledge to better understand the variability of disintegration across different systems, all major steps towards successfully processing compostable packaging.”