Daphna Nissenbaum


While a wide majority of plastic packaging is not fit for recycling, one of the most promising alternatives to emerge in recent years is compostable plastic. Compostable plastic is designed to provide the same protection features as conventional plastic packaging, yet in post-consumption it will biodegrade in compost systems alongside organic waste to support the production of a valuable product: agricultural compost. Compost is one of the most important elements to protect soil fertility.

This can be used in gardens and on fields to reduce irrigation needs, absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and increase crop yields. When it comes to the applications, compostable plastics have the potential to replace their traditional counterparts, especially in the packaging industry, which makes up 40 percent of all global plastic demand. With many of the same characteristics that have made traditional plastic so ubiquitous in packaging, including the ability to protect the shelf life of goods with a similar look and feel, compostable packaging is growing 16 percent a year, and is expected to continue to do so over the next decade.

#1: The Powerful Impact of Pairing of Compostable Plastic and Food
Currently, 71 percent of packaged food products are packaged in plastic. At the same time, consumers increasingly demand more sustainable packaging options, with 43 percent saying they consider this factor when making purchasing decisions.

For food, including fresh produce, snacks, and coffee, compostable packaging has grown in popularity partly because the packaging can be disposed of along with any leftover food waste. For example, because coffee grounds are compostable, coffee pods made from compostable plastic can be tossed into the compost bin without being taken apart and separated into their different components. Similarly, compostable plastic packaging for grapes can simply be put into a compost bin along with the leftover stems and seeds. When it comes to food and snacks, compostable plastic offers convenience along with environmental benefits.

#2: More U.S.-Based Manufacturing of Compostable Plastics
Not only is the U.S. demanding growth for compostable plastics, but more companies have also started manufacturing them. The fact that compostable plastics can be manufactured locally makes the material even more eco-friendly and sustainable. The ability to source compostable plastic packaging closer to home allows businesses to save on shipping costs and time. The reduced shipping distance also reduces the overall carbon footprint of a business. In addition, local sourcing of packaging helps boost local economies.

In most cases, compostable plastic can be made on the same production lines as traditional plastics, erasing the need to purchase new machinery, which saves on both financial costs and environmental impact. This ease of manufacturing on existing equipment means more packaging companies can add compostable plastics to their offerings.

#3: Innovation in Compostable Polymers
Like traditional plastic, compostable plastic is made from polymers. However, the main difference is that compostable polymers ultimately break down into nutrient-rich soil under the right conditions. While several types of compostable polymers have become common, machine learning has helped advance the research and development of new types of polymers and different combinations of polymers. Machine learning significantly speeds up the process of figuring out the most ideal building blocks that can make up new compostable plastics. This innovation is especially important as different markets have different specifications for the types of packaging they need. Advances in compostable polymer science can also lead to products that compost more quickly or can be disposed of in home composters rather than industrial compost conditions after use.

#4: A Growing Place for Composting in Waste Management and Sustainability Policy
This past year, we saw more policymakers pass laws, introduce programs, and make recommendations to increase the amount of waste that is composted. New York became the most recent large city to require residents to separate food scraps and other organic waste and dispose of it in dedicated compost bins. Currently, nine U.S. states require the composting of organic waste, and, in many other states, municipalities offer or are considering offering home pickup of compostable waste, making composting as convenient as recycling or throwing away ordinary garbage.

On an international level, composting is playing a growing role in strategies to curb climate change by reducing waste, including plastic. For example, as efforts continued last year toward an international plastic treaty that would reduce plastic-use by 80 percent over the next 20 years, the United Nations suggested that up to 17 percent of all plastic can be substituted with compostable materials.

Driving More Growth
While compostable plastics are far from reaching their potential, the industry made steady progress in 2023. Going forward, many of this past year’s trends, including growing consumer demand, more local manufacturing, advancements in R&D, and the expanding role of composting in waste management policy, will continue, driving even more growth in the industry. Each sign of growth in the compostable plastics industry means that a healthier and more sustainable future is becoming a reality, for us and the planet. | WA

Daphna Nissenbaum is CEO and Co-founder of TIPA®, where she is leading the TIPA® team in the movement to revolutionize packaging systems and rid the world of plastic pollution. TIPA® fully compostable flexible packaging replaces conventional plastic, turning waste into resource, a crisis into an opportunity. For more information, visit https://tipa-corp.com.

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