Study: Compostable Packaging Lowers Consumer Confusion, Contamination at Restaurants

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Restaurants, commercial venues and other foodservice locations can more successfully divert food scraps and lower customer confusion with the adoption of compostable packaging, according to a new study sponsored by The Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI).

Restaurants, commercial venues and other foodservice locations can more successfully divert food scraps and lower customer confusion with the adoption of compostable packaging, according to a new study sponsored by The Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI)

The CompostAble Chicago report examined the role compostable foodservice packaging "can play to streamline consumer handling of food scraps and divert more high-value scraps to composting is a high priority." As these establishments engage in waste diversion practices involving organics, composters are tasked with higher-contamination material streams that come with the use of non-compostable packaging and other non-organic materials.

“The CompostAble Chicago study developed an organized framework to evaluate the effectiveness of waste diversion at foodservice venues,” said Ian Jacobson, Eco-Products president, a partner on the project.  “Understanding best practices at the operator and their impact on levels of contamination is valuable to the relationship between venues, haulers and compost manufacturers. The overall goal is to reduce contamination and get more food scraps and compostable foodservice items to the composter—ultimately keeping these items out of the landfill.”

Report partners included the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), Eco-Products, Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC), Plant Based Products Council (PBPC) and Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). The project team of Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) and Bright Beat conducted the waste audits and research.

An analysis of "several" existing programs in the Chicago area, the materials recovered and the operating conditions that led to those programs being successful were examined.

Research objectives focused on the correlation between the use of compostable foodservice packaging, implemented under certain operating conditions that were "success factors" in capturing front-of-house (FOH) food scraps and determining how these operating conditions mitigated contamination in those establishments. 

The study found that venues using compostable foodservice packaging under the right conditions collected more food scraps front-of-house (FOH) compost streams and reduced contamination.

“Using an all-compostable suite of foodservice items like plates, trays and cutlery, creates a simpler sorting experience for consumers in front-of-house situations,” said Olga Kachook, director of Bioeconomy and Reuse Initiatives at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a partner on the study. “This translates to less consumer confusion about what goes where and leads to more food scraps going into the compost stream instead of the landfill.”

Researchers gathered data from a full-service restaurant, a museum quick-serve café, a school cafeteria and a university quick-serve café in the Chicago area. Operating conditions and waste streams were monitored. Waste sorts provided insight into contamination with the use of compostable products.

Ratings based on a methodology provided on website were given to each establishment based on the the supply of certified compostable packaging, the level of knowledge and engagement by staff, the presence of instructional materials (i.e., messaging, labels, signage) and levels of turnover for both patrons and staff.

The CompostAble Chicago report also allowed for the development of methodologies for" venue-to-operator evaluation and continued, expanded research."

“It’s important to be able to determine the value proposition of using compostable products,” explained Rhodes Yepsen, executive director of BPI, a partner on the project. “While numerous waste audits have been done in the past, it can be challenging to get meaningful data, so this collaborative effort focused on what’s important to measure, and how we can use that data to build composting programs that are successful.”

With the availability of a template and guide to collect further data, FPI aims to amplify research in the area.

“The CompostAble Chicago study is a first of its kind partnership and provides a replicable methodology to further the research on compostable packaging and food scrap capture,” said Natha Dempsey, FPI president, in a statement. “As additional data is gathered, we will be able to better correlate how the right operating conditions, collaboration between the operator and composter, and packaging selection will result in more food and packaging composted via clean front-of-house composting streams.”

 

 

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