Recyclable or Compostable? What’s Better?

By Lachlan Peter / March 25 2021

As businesses, governments and the general population are gradually awakening the fact that the way we are living isn’t sustainable for the longevity of the world, debates are spreading like wild fire as to what is the best way to move forward. The way we package and dispose of said packaging often heads up this debate.

As a paper packaging manufacturer and supplier, sustainability is at the forefront of everything we do and we are constantly looking at ways to improve our products for sustainability and quality. The majority of our products are single use, therefore the way in which they can be disposed of is of great importance.

We have all heard the old waste management hierarchy – ‘Avoid, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Dispose’, or is it ‘Prevent, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover, Dispose’? or is it ‘Rethink, Refuse, Reduce…’ you get our point, with it being constantly changed, unless you are heavily invested it’s hard to keep up! Don’t get us wrong, it’s fantastic to see that waste management is getting a lot of attention and is being reviewed and improved so often, but for the general punter if they Google ‘waste management hierarchy’ they will get upwards of 20 contradicting charts and imagery results. This can be overwhelming and also detrimental to the public’s perception as to what’s actually best practice in this space. The important thing to note is that on no matter what waste management hierarchy you see, recycling always sits above composting.

When it comes to single use packaging, we are not afraid to admit that recyclable material is a hard sell, especially when you put it up against its compostable counterpart. The confusion around it can turn people away, compostable is simple and you don’t have to work hard to get the gist of it. The reason recyclable materials are superior is that first and foremost they can be re purposed over and over again to create other products, this saves valuable resources and creates a circular economy. The second key reason is that if we are going to cut down a tree or make paper products, doesn’t it makes sense to get as much use out of that tree as physically possible (same goes for plastic)?

The idea that no matter where you put a compostable product it will break down to nothing, is so simple to understand that it becomes the go to material because it’s easy to comprehend. Compostable products are great but they aren’t the best option. It takes a bit of unpacking to get past the appealing tagline to fully understand why.

Recyclable Coffee Cups

Firstly, compostable products can only be composted when disposed in certain ways e.g. home compost or green waste bins but they can’t be composted if they go into general waste bins or in the street. Secondly, not every state or council has the appropriate waste management processes in place e.g. green waste management, therefore compostable products are diverted to landfill where they are unable to breakdown and simply add to our already dire landfill issues. Thirdly, trees are being cut down to make products that have one use, which seems like a waste even if they are sustainably grown. Finally, compost isn’t a valuable resource, theres no shortage of it and we don’t actually need any more of it…

It is so exciting to see that more and more people are looking for sustainable packaging solutions in Australia and are conscious about their environmental footstep. As a business we have backed recycling and recyclable products as this is where we can see a better outcome for our planet long term. Compostable products are also great and absolutely have their place, but regardless of the packaging you choose to back, disposing of it correctly makes all the difference.