How do you know if your packaging is compostable?

When consumer demand for sustainable packaging is on the rise, and more and more multi-national companies are being required to meet & achieve sustainability goals, the question that comes up is: How do you know that your sustainable packaging is legit? What things should you be looking for to ensure you’re on the right side of new environmental regulations?

We believe true sustainable packaging solutions should never leave any inorganic waste behind. Which is why TIPA’s packaging solutions are certified compostable.

Whether you are a brand inquiring what the real eco-friendly packaging solutions are, or whether you’re an end-consumer who wants to make sure that your favorite brands use sustainable packaging with a viable end-of-life – below are some general points to guide you: standards, labs, testing and certifications.

So, let’s take a look at what these actually mean.

1. Compostable Packaging Standards

Several global organizations have defined the standards and requirements for compostable packaging certifications including The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), TUV AUSTRIA, and the European Union.

The standard that is arguably the most international in scope and compliance with the composability requirement, is the EN 13432. This harmonized European Commission standard, is linked to the European Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC) for packaging to be considered recoverable. It defines how quickly and to what extent a biodegradable plastic must degrade under industrial composting conditions.

This standard prescribes (among other requirements) for disintegration after twelve weeks, that at least 90% of the product should be converted to CO2 and H2O and the remaining material should be able to pass through a 2 x 2 mm mesh. Biodegradable product producers use this standard and certification schemes developed upon this standard, to show that their products are compostable. Industrial composters run their process in less time than the described 12 weeks in the standard.

The American Society for Testing and Materials for the labeling of plastics specifications designed ASTM D6400 to be aerobically composted in municipal and industrial facilities.

The International Organization for Standardization set ASTM 5338/ ISO 14855 to define a test method which helps to determine the degree and rate of aerobic biodegradation of plastics in a controlled composting environment, that is, under laboratory conditions.

TIPA®️ compostable adheres to all these standards (EN 13432, ASTM D6400, and AS 4736).

2. Labs & Testing

Only accredited testing laboratories can perform tests for all compostable products, to grant them with official home and industrial compostable certifications, by the agencies mentioned above.

Biodegradable product testing generally examines a product’s compostable materials, intermediates, and additives as well as final characteristics and composition.

What are the testing requirements for industrial composting?

  • Biodegradation: A minimum 90% biodegradation vs a control sample is required in a maximum of 6 months.
  • Disintegration: A pilot composting test ensures that the material physically breaks down within 3 months.
  • Material Characterization: This includes heavy metal testing and determination of the volatile solid content.
  • Ecotoxicity: Compost from the disintegration test is used to ensure that the components have no adverse effects on the plant growth.

What are the characteristics of requirements for home composting?

Consumers actively compost their garden waste at home, either in compost bins or compost heaps, eliminating the need for collection. The temperature in a garden compost heap is generally lower and less constant than in an industrial composting environment. Therefore, composting in the garden is a more extreme and slower-paced process. Under these conditions, certain compostable materials do not exhibit sufficient biodegradation.

Standard home compost temperatures tend to hover at 25 ± 5ᵒC, with a target humidity of around 50%. Under normal home composting conditions, the packaging will disintegrate within 6 months, and fully biodegrade within a year.

3. Compostable Packaging Certifications

The certifiers below, which are globally established agencies, adhere to the highest quality requirements of compostable certifications. They committed to providing all their services in an ethical, socially, and environmentally responsible manner.

  • TUV AUSTRIA guarantee that all the packaging and products bearing their OK compost INDUSTRIAL label, are biodegradable in an industrial composting plant. This applies to all their components, inks, and additives.
  • OK compost HOME programme, as mentioned before, does not explicitly refer to a certain standard, but lists all technical requirements a product must meet to obtain certification. Defined in 2003, it has served as a pioneer in this field, and as the basis for the drafting of several standards such as: Australia: AS 5810 (2010), France: NF T 51800 (2015), Europe: prEN 17427 (2020).
  • TÜV Rheinland Group and DIN, the German Institute for Standardization jointly run DIN CERTCO and the European Bioplastics e. V. DIN CERTCO. They can apply the internationally recognized Compostable Mark (“Seedling”) as well as the OK compost.
  • BPI is North America’s leading certifier of compostable products and packaging. They provide technically and scientifically credible certifications for materials that biodegrade inbiologically active environments. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards certify the BPI specifically to commercial environments, therefor BPI’s certification is strictly limited to commercial compostability.
  • The ABA launched Australian Standard 4736-2006, compostable and biodegradable plastics – “Biodegradable plastics suitable for composting and other microbial treatment” which is known as the ‘seedling logo’ certification system throughout Australia and New Zealand.
  • The Cré Compostable Certification Scheme is the only Irish scheme providing third party independent assessment that compostable products can be put into food waste recycling bins (brown bins) and processed in industrial composting plants in Ireland.

All TIPA®’s compostable packaging films and laminates are Home and/or Industrial compostable hold these certifications.

Industrial Composting:

Home composting:

As you can see, it’s a journey to certify compostable packaging; it takes consistency, commitment, and determination. However, by using properly certified packaging you can be confident in achieving your sustainability goals.

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