At Vegware, we aren’t pretending to be a solution to littering or marine pollution, and advise our clients clearly on our straws page and our website composting FAQs. But in foodservice, compostable packaging is the only quality recycling option for food-contaminated mixed materials.
The EFRA committee states that compostable plastics have been introduced without the right waste infrastructure, but the same is still true of most forms of plastic waste, even with a 70-year head start. How much of the UK’s plastic waste actually gets reprocessed, not just exported to become another country’s problem?
We do not agree with much of the information provided to the EFRA committee, and we recommend anyone interested in an evidence-based discussion of compostable packaging to read the Policy Position Paper of the BBIA (Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, our trade association). For example, we see compostable packaging as the solution for no more than 5-8% of current plastic packaging, in applications where food contamination otherwise limits the recycling conventional materials. Compostables are not right for every situation, but can work very well in foodservice, where we have been working hard to increase waste collection options. It’s also worth noting that even with a major shift to reuse, some disposables will still be needed.
Knowing the varied nature of UK waste, Vegware has taken matters into its own hands, proactively creating suitable trade waste routes for our clients to use. 38% of UK postcode districts now have a suitable trade waste collection for used Vegware – up from 2% when we first started working directly with the waste sector, and from 25% at the start of 2019. A new partnership with First Mile’s RecycleBox scheme allows any individual anywhere in the UK to arrange a courier collection for a box of used Vegware. We employ five people in our Environmental team to engage with clients, collectors and facilities, ensuring good source segregation and minimising contamination.
Compostable packaging is designed for industrial composting, and there are over two dozen UK specialist waste facilities who accept Vegware disposables for processing. Most of these are in-vessel composting, with a handful of open windrow for Vegware drinks waste, and some suitable AD plants. Although not yet common in the UK, dry AD is also suitable for compostable packaging, and also produces gas yields. Where a suitable composting option is not available, used Vegware should go in general waste. Studies show that in incineration, PLA produces more heat than newspaper, wood or food waste; unlike conventional plastics, produces no volatile gases and leaves little residue.