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Sustainable packaging is the eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastic. It is intended to limit the packaging industry’s environmental impact through packaging designs that are reusable, recyclable or compostable.
The terms biodegradable and compostable are often used without responsibility, confusing consumers who consider eco-friendly packaging in product purchases.
Biodegradable is broadly used, mostly to lure customers into buying products that claim to be environmentally friendly. These materials break down on their own but without specific guidelines on degradation.
Compostable materials, on the other hand, degrade within a specified time period. At the end of their life cycle, these materials can be mixed with compost and added to soil. The Australasian Bioplastics Association certifies product compostability in Australia after testing for ecotoxicity and earthworm survival.
Companies are legally required to properly label their products because inaccurate or misleading labels are punishable under Australian laws.
The applications of compostables, even as a sustainable packaging option, remain limited because it is designed to degrade under specific conditions. This means compostables are more susceptible to microbial attacks over time and can compromise the quality of certain products, especially sensitive food items.
NO. Compostable and biodegradable packaging has physical properties that are designed to break down over time. Their materials are generally weaker and more vulnerable to external factors and these are why they are recommended for single-use packaging purposes.
Given the current landscape of consumer behaviour and business practices, recycling gives the most environmental benefit. Recyclable packaging reduces the use of single-use plastics and overall waste volume by keeping materials within a circular economy.
In fact, the government has committed $167 million to the Australian Recycling Investment Plan, which aims to recover 80% of all waste streams and halve organic waste sent to landfill by 2030. Furthermore, Australian Environment Ministers in 2019 established a timeline for banning waste exports to push for innovations in recycling and local waste management.
There are cases, however, where compostable packaging provides more environmental value as a sustainable packaging alternative. These cases include specific applications that involve heavy contamination with food or other organic products, such as takeaway containers and food waste bags or bin liners.