It’s 2030 and Facilities are Composting Food and Packaging: Here’s How We Got There

It’s time to reimagine the future of compostable packaging. Much of today’s discussion is narrowly focused on the packaging and food service industries, lacking a long-term vision for how compostable packaging can be deployed successfully with bigger goals in mind. 

What will lead our society to a future where compostable packaging is not only accepted at composting facilities but part of a bigger system of beneficial use and reuse? Better data on contamination, food waste legislation, and a renewed focus on carbon sinks can help pave the way. 

  • We’ll have a better understanding of contamination Today, we know that contamination plagues composting facilities and causes many to shy away from accepting compostable packaging. Yet there is limited information on the source or makeup of this contamination - is it coming mostly from commercial waste streams or residential? Why was it put in the composting bin in the first place? If you visit a composting facility, you’ll see that “contamination” is everything from garden hoses and dolls to water bottles and plastic bags. Contamination can also include compostable packaging that hasn’t broken down, but the many nuances to this -- whether it was certified compostable and failed to break down quickly, or whether the facility is operating at conditions that aren’t suitable for packaging -- are currently left in the dark.By 2030, we’ll have a better understanding of the exact breakdown of contamination, where it’s coming from, and what kind of materials are a problem. We’ll use these insights to focus consumer and business outreach, restrict chronically-misplaced materials from food-service settings, and standardize compostability messaging on packaging.
  • States will ban food waste from landfills An astonishing amount of food waste is sent to landfills in the US, with only 38% getting composted. Addressing food waste through prevention and recovery is key to a sustainable future - in fact, it’s one of the top 3 solutions for addressing climate change. We’re already seeing more states mandating a better approach to food waste, with New Jersey as the latest state to ban landfilling of food waste and stimulating the growth of the composting industry. Compostable packaging, particularly in food service and venue settings, plays an important role in getting more food waste out of the garbage by eliminating sorting and allowing consumers to put all food-soiled items into one bin.  By 2030, the United States will have banished food waste from landfills and dramatically ramped up our composting infrastructure. This new capacity will prevent gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and allow more material, including compostable packaging, to be processed for beneficial use.
  • We’ll get serious about soils as a carbon sink Research from Project Drawdown and The Carbon Underground is helping open our eyes to the immense carbon-storing potential of soil. Today, “land sinks” are reservoirs for absorbing and storing carbon, helping to return 26% of human-caused emissions into the earth. Soil is an enormous storehouse of carbon, and soil with more carbon content is also more agriculturally-productive and resilient. Experiments by the Marin Carbon Project have shown that applying compost can double soil carbon sequestration.  In 2030, we’ll be applying our vast quantities of newly-generated compost to soil everywhere, sequestering carbon and reducing demand for nitrogen fertilizers. Compost will be recognized as a key tool for absorbing carbon, and packaging designed for a second life as a biological nutrient will thrive.

It’s 2030, and facilities are composting more food and packaging than ever before. We’ve broken out of our industry siloes and started building sustainable systems - food, packaging, and land woven together to tackle climate change through avoided emissions and stored carbon. Compostable packaging is now part of something bigger.

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