Compostable packaging isn't what it seems.
Here at James Dunlop Textiles we are committed to reducing waste and caring for our environment. We strive to be socially responsible and environmentally conscious by focusing on delivering the most sustainable product and service while caring for others in our communities.
Generally the textile industry is moving in the right direction with programs such as Okeo-Tex which monitor for the use of harmful chemicals, more efficient manufacturing processes and adherence to global workplace standards. However, with our global logistics operations, the local impact on the environment through packaging and freight is something we are working particularly hard at mitigating.
For the past 12 months, the James Dunlop Textiles operations team has carried out research and trials on how to reduce our reliance on plastic packaging. We receive our piece rolls in a variety of plastic packaging (some recyclable) and then ship cut-length fabrics to our customers in our branded plastic packaging. Most of the clear plastic is recyclable and when we cannot reuse the packaging, we collect it and send it to recycling locations where it is turned into alternative plastic products.
We are driven to find a better long-term alternative solution, however the path to a satisfactory alternative is not a clear as media make it out to be. One of the options we are investigating thoroughly is compostable plastics.
Compostable plastic is plastic that will break down and entirely return to nature. (Compostable is a subset of biodegradable*) There are two types: home compostable and commercially compostable. The majority of rigid bio-plastics are only compostable in a municipal composting environment, where they require moisture and temperatures of 60+ degrees minimum to break down. (Ref Shardlows)
Compostable plastics designed to break down in a commercial compost environment may not break down in a home compost or natural environment. If labelled commercially compostable, plastics can only be returned to a local commercial compost collection service, of which there are very few of across our regional distribution network. This, we found is the main challenge with the compostable packaging option.
While it may seem the most sustainable option, composting plastics incorrectly is actually worse than using recycled plastic bags which can again be recycled. The key concerns are:
- Lack of commercial composting sites or access to them results in most compostable plastic bags entering landfills
- Compostable plastics in a landfill give off methane, a major greenhouse gas and 30 times worse than carbon dioxide
- Labelling - Unless labelling is obvious, it can be difficult to distinguish between compostable ‘plastic’ and ordinary plastic meaning they might end up contaminating each other’s recycling stream. (Ref. Better Packaging Co)
- Compostable bags often contain additives that restrict the biodegradation of the plastics
- If not properly composted the bags can break down into micro-plastics, which pollute waterways and oceans as well as accumulate in soils.
- There is a lack of agreed compostable standards within and across the regions we currently service.
- Greenwashing - Unfortunately, misleading information and companies claiming compostability with little substantiation is common. If in doubt assume ‘compostable’ means compostable only in a commercial or industrial facility. (Ref. Better Packaging Co.)
Where to from here? James Dunlop Textiles continue to consider and pursue alternative packaging solutions including:
- Reusable fabric packaging for local distribution and collection
- Reusable plastic options
- Use of plastic from recycled material that can then also be recycled into future products
- Compostable plastic bags that are easily biodegradable, wherever they are disposed of
- Paper wrapping cut-length freight
The current preferred option according to Governmental and Waste Management experts is the use of recycled plastic that is fully recyclable not biodegradable or compostable products.
Published Oct. 17, 2019
James Dunlop Textiles continues to work with our packaging suppliers and courier companies in this space who are also actively seeking alternatives.
We are committed to finding a more sustainable solution and are continuously testing and trialing different options to find that balance between environmental impact and usability.
You can find out more information on compostable bags here.
* What is biodegradable plastic? *
Biodegradable plastic is plastic that will break down through the action of living organisms, usually microbes. To fully break down, biodegradable plastics require the right environment, which usually means commercial processing.
If biodegradable plastic is left to break down in a natural environment – such as in landfills or the sea – it often only breaks down into micro-plastics. These micro-plastics can create ‘plastic smog’ in parts of the ocean and accumulate in soils.