While several manufacturers tout that their packaging is “compostable” or “biodegradable,” many consumers are still unaware that these terms come with very specific fine print.
Most at-home composts do not produce the temperature needed to fully break down these types of packaging, and studies show that biodegrable items generally do not break down in a landfill either.
Before very recent innovations, most of these products were only truly living up to their environmental claims if they were disposed of in a commercial composting system. But finding these types of facilities is difficult, as they are are not as widely available and few cities across the U.S. have composting services.
Earlier this year, SunChips released the first 100 percent compostable chip bag that was guaranteed to break down in a home compost system, setting the bar high for other single-use packaging manufacturers.
Vartan admits to being a less-than-dedicated composter and doesn’t quite maintain the proper mixture of oxygen- and nitrogen-enriched goods to keep her compost in tip-top shape. However, she was able to throw the deli container into her backyard bin mixed with food scraps and dead leaves, and the container broke down in just one month in her slower-turning bin.
Before putting the container into the compost, “I kept my Whole Foods deli box in my fridge for five days. It was filled with rolled grape leaves (oily) and quinoa salad (somewhat watery). It kept the food fresh as Tupperware would, sans leaks,” Vartan writes.
By day three, the box started to visibly collapse after a rain shower, and by the eighth day, it was clearly breaking down. Vartan says that by the third week, the container was virtually unrecognizable. (See the entire photo gallery here.)
According to Whole Foods spokesperson Ashley Hawkins, the boxes are made from a mixture of natural fibers including sugar cane pulp, corn starch, asparagus, tapioca root and bamboo. The retailer had previously tested the containers’ compostability and even utilizes them in store composting and food waste collection programs.
The U.S. EPA estimates that each American throws away an average of 1.3 pounds of food scraps daily – translating to almost 13 percent of the nation’s municipal solid waste (MSW) stream.
However, according to the National Resource Defense Council, only 8 percent of Americans compost their waste, including residents in cities like San Francisco and Seattle, where composting is part of the general waste pickup.