The compostable packaging market is expected to grow 17 percent on an annual basis between 2020 and 2027, according to Data Bridge Market Research.
With the shift of materials entering the organics stream, compost facilities are being met with contamination challenges. In What will it take for us to get to zero waste?, Closed Loop Partners along with members of the Composting Consortium provided four key insights into building resiliency within composting systems.
"Yet, in the U.S. today, the materials we find in composting streams are changing more rapidly than recovery systems and infrastructure can keep up," the report stated. "Most commercial composting facilities were built to process only yard waste. Without sufficient end-of-life pathways in place, massive amounts of organic waste are filling landfills."
The Composting Consortium, which is managed Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy, is a multi-year cooperative comprising of founding members PepsiCo and the NextGen Consortium as well as Colgate-Palmolive, Eastman, The Kraft Heinz Company, Mars, Incorporated and Target. Supporting partners include Biodegradable Products Institute, the U.S. Composting Council and the U.S. Plastics Pact.
With single-use plastic bans popping up in municipalities and states across the country, foodservice providers have adopted compostable packaging, which presents an issue.
"While compostable packaging presents a potential opportunity to recover the food scraps that come with food packaging, its rapid growth trajectory is not matched with a similar growth in recovery capacity," the report stated. "Only 2 percent of composting facilities in the U.S. today accept and process compostable packaging."
It continued, "The composting industry is now at a turning point. Architecting an industrial composting system that can effectively process large volumes of food waste, and the compostable packaging that may come with it, will require restructuring economic incentives to accept these materials, aligning policy creation with infrastructure expansion, expanding access to composting and educating toward new patterns of consumption."
In order to boost U.S. composting and organics infrastructure, economic incentives for composting facilities to process food waste and food-contact compostable packaging must be made readily available. Compensation should be addressed as composters shift from yard waste. This also should include assistance in the expansion of end markets.
The physical and chemical contamination of compost should be examined and mitigated.
"Eliminating pollutants—such as PFAS and persistent herbicides that negatively affect compost utilization or impose costly treatment requirements at the organics recycling facility—is critical," the organization stressed.
Packaging must be standardized to address "look alikes" that are not truly compostable, which includes labeling.
With food waste entering the organics stream at an increasing rate, infrastructure capacity "must be built, expanded and retrofitted to accommodate food waste diversion."
In the short term, this means upgrading facilities that only accept yard waste to enable source-separated food scrap processing.
Finally, legislation on the local, state and federal level that backs organics diversion should be supported.
"Regulation such as organics disposal bans and mandates, local requirements to make curbside and/or drop-off organics recycling services available to all households, and pay-as-you-throw schemes are critical tools to improving the system," the report stated.
However, factors involving the increasing operational capacities of composting must be considered.
The report concluded that, "through collaboration with these stakeholders and composters, the Composting Consortium is analyzing existing infrastructure, policy and value chains and providing recommendations for how the U.S. can scale a thriving industrial composting industry, where the compostable packaging and food scraps going to landfill is minimized and the industries that play a critical role in achieving that vision are supported."