As more and more companies offer compostable packaging, it’s important to know how and where to dispose of things to ensure they return safely to the earth. The two main avenues of composting are ‘Home’ and ‘Industrial’. So, what’s the difference between the two?
First things first…what is compost?
At its most basic function, the role of compost is to break down organic matter and return it harmlessly to the earth. This natural, biological decomposition is activated by microorganisms and requires the right balance of materials and conditions in order to take effect.
What is home composting?
Home compost is a collection of organic, plant-based materials that are either piled in an area of the backyard or collected in a compost bin. Both of these home methods can handle small amounts of green and brown waste materials (things like food scraps, garden offcuts and cardboard) and require frequent turning and maintenance to make sure the right mix of warmth, moisture and air is present. The compost mix is broken down by microorganisms, which then produce a nutrient rich humus. This stuff is fantastic fertiliser for the garden and is the reason many people decide to start their own home composting set-up.
What can go into a home compost?
Almost all organic waste can be composted in a home facility. The aim is to get a good, balanced mix of things like plant cuttings, vegetable peels, coffee grounds, grass clippings, bread and tea leaves. Most plant and animal-based things can be returned to the earth, however, the exception to this rule is animal products and pet poop. For a healthy compost, you’ll want to avoid dog and cat droppings, meat offcuts, chicken bones and fish skins – these will only make your compost smell. When it comes to compostable bags and packaging, any manufactured products that are certified by the AS5810 (2010) standard are safe to go into the home compost. This number is a verification from the Australasian Bioplastics Association that the item can be broken down harmlessly, without leaving a toxic residue behind.
If you don’t have your own home compost pile or bin, don’t panic! There’s also the option to deposit your compostable waste in an industrial composting facility in your area.
What is industrial composting?
Industrial or commercial composting takes place in a mass facility. There are three main techniques: windrow, in-vessel and aerated static pile composting. These environments are designed to optimise the degradation process. They are more regulated when it comes to temperature and management and can process large volumes of waste more quickly and efficiently than a home environment. Industrial facilities are constantly monitored to ensure ideal conditions: that there’s stable, high heat (60 degrees Celsius or above), oxygen, moisture and the right balance of carbon and nitrogen. These controlled conditions ensure efficient biodegradation of organic materials.
What can go into an industrial compost?
Large-scale industrial facilities serve a wide geographic area and are intended to divert organic materials away from general waste. While the same composting ingredients are needed (i.e. green and brown waste), there are some items that can only be processed in an industrial facility. Packaging that is certified for industrial composting cannot be handled by a home environment. This is because certain plastics require the stability and intensity of an industrial facility to decompose properly and completely. If in doubt, it’s best to check the instructions on the packaging and look for the certification numbers. AS4736 (2006) is the Australasian Bioplastics Association Australian standard for commercial compostability levels. An item with this number on it can safely be deposited into an industrial facility and broken down to generate a high-quality, toxic-free compost.
When it comes to our Because We Care compostable bags, anything that’s certified home compostable can also be disposed of in an industrial composting facility. This means that even if you don’t have a compost pile set up at home, you’re still able to dispose of your bags safely.
Whichever way you choose to do it, there’s no doubt composting is great for the environment. If you don’t have a home compost for your organic items, it’s recommended you locate your closest commercial facility and start a routine of syphoning any suitable household waste there instead.
Your small steps will mean there’s less waste being packed into landfill and more nutrients being consumed by the earth instead.