Coalition hails results of compostable packaging consumer trial

THE Compostable Coalition UK has reported a five-fold increase in the disposal of compostable packaging in food waste bins, in a ‘first-of-its-kind’ consumer behaviour trial.

In a six-week trial with residents in Medway, 120 households were told they could dispose of compostable packaging in their food and garden waste bin. The disposal of compostable packaging in the food and garden waste bin is not currently mandatory nationally, and advice varies between local authorities.

The trial found that with ‘clear communication and labelling’, consumers were able to identify compostable packaging and dispose of it correctly, with contamination levels in these bins also dropping by the end of the testing period.

Throughout the trial, households received boxes with goods in both compostable and plastic packaging. Items included confectionery, snack food, fresh produce, tea bags, coffee pods, and shopping bags from retailers and brands including Co-Op, Ocado, Lipton Teas and Infusions.

The compostable packaging was marked with newly developed labels by Hubbub, with input from OPRL. Households also received other educational resources designed by Hubbub, with insight from behavioural scientists at the University of Sheffield, which encouraged them to check packaging labels, use their food waste bin, and explained the composting process.

The Compostable Coalition UK said the amount of food discarded in the food waste bin increased by 23% while contamination levels in the food and garden waste bins dropped on average from 9% to just 3% by the end of the trial.

Alongside the trial in Medway, the Coalition also undertook a composting trial at EnVar, one of the largest composting sites in the UK. Here, 13 tonnes of compostable items including coffee pods, tea bags, fresh produce packaging, twist wraps, snack food packaging and single-use service-ware were tested for their effectiveness to biodegrade under the normal operating conditions of an industrial composting site.

Results showed those products supplied in their ready-to-use state biodegraded successfully, with the finished compost passing PAS100 certification.

Laura Fernandez, senior packaging and sustainability manager at Ocado Retail, said, “We were delighted to participate in this trial which has delivered such positive results. Ocado remains committed to continued collaboration with the industry to determine the role compostable packaging can play in the circular economy, especially when supported by an effective collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure.”

Alice Harlock, director of technical and member services OPRL, added, “This trial reinforces the message that providing consumers with clear, visible labels can have a positive impact on both participation and contamination. The findings of the pilot back up OPRL’s own consumer research, which shows that consumers look for information on recycling at the point of disposal.”

Tom McBeth, policy and infrastructure manager at RECOUP, commented, “Having conducted the analysis of the organic waste stream for six weeks during the trial, RECOUP witnessed a steady but noticeable decline in contamination of the food waste samples, as well as an increase in overall volumes of food waste disposed of correctly. More engagement would need to be done to help ensure a clean waste stream overall, but this really helped to show the importance of engagement with citizens with regards to disposal of their waste.”

Julia Schifter, VP strategy analysis, TIPA & co-founder, Compostable Coalition UK, stated, “Compostable Packaging offers a new way to achieve circularity for some of the most challenging hard-to-recycle’ plastics. Yet, the proper collection and treatment of compostables is key to achieve a full circularity for these products. The results of our study clearly prove that once consumers are provided with a label that positively instructs them where to discard such packages, their ability to behave accordingly increased dramatically.”