Why we must be clear about biodegradable & compostables

With my Cleaner Seas Project hat on and with a keen interest in recycling having previously worked in Brands packaging, one of the issues that I deal with for the Cleaner Seas Project and lately A Greener Bude is "Biodegradables" and "compostables" 

Requirements of the EN 13432 standard

The Problem

Currently "Home composting" falls under the "Industrial Composting" standard (see EN 13432 Standard below)


Why is this a problem?

Currently companies selling their products in biodegradable packaging can claim that their products are "compostable" or home compostable even though there is no existing standard for this.  Many products that are listed as "home compostable" or "compostable" must be recovered via industrial composting or the plant based polymer it is made from could exist in our environment for a long time.  

For example

Snact as an example, claim that their products are home compostable.   Crisp packets are non recyclable so for a company to offer a solution with fully home compostable snack packets would be music to my ears.  After a little searching and questioning I am told by Snact that their products are made from a plant based polymer.  After further questioning I am told it is fully home compostable.  This is contrary to what I currently know about plant based polymers.

Snact Claim on their website that their products are indeed fully home compostable.   BBC online news has applauded Snact for this remarkable packaging that looks like plastic but is fully home compostable. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-43390938 

Snact claims on their website
Quote on BBC online news from Michael Minch-Dixon, Snact co-founder

Tipa products are compounds and films that comply with EU 13432 (shown above) and ASTM D6400 standards and are certified for both home and industrial composting through the OK Compost mark by the Vincotte Institute.

ASTM D6400
Vincotte certification


Tipa describe Snact packets as Certified as compostable in industrial conditions EN13432 on their website.

Tipa demonstrating how Snact packaging biodegrades under industrial composting conditions

Snact do acknowledge on their website that industrial composting facilities where temperatures are approximately 50 to 60°C differ from that of  home composting which has lower temperatures and is less constant that an industrial composter and so is usually more difficult and slower paced.   They suggest that it will take 6 months to compost in a home composter.  I've asked them for some scientific proof to back this up.  However There are other questions I have... depending on how many snack packets you might use per week, what size composter would one consumer need to compost these packs effectively? Also how many consumers know how to compost correctly and effectively anyway? What percentage of the UK population have a composter and are able to compost at their home?

That's not to say this is impossible, but It appears to me that we do not have an infrastructure currently that can deal with this. 

Q & A from the Snact website


My concerns: 

It is imperative at a time where there is already massive consumer confusion about what can be and what cannot be recycled we are clear about what packaging is made from and how we recover it.  Clear labelling and alongside that clear defined legislation and strict standards are needed. We are, with plant based polymers adding another stream to the already failing UK waste management system.  

What needs to be done:

For biodegradable to be a better option than recyclables we must be able to recover it correctly.  It is essential that there is an infrastructure in place to deal with this.  Currently there is not.

We need better legislation and standards to cover biodegradable and compostables urgently.

Clear labelling on products about what the packaging is made from and how it should be recovered.

An infrastructure in place to recover plant based polymers - industrial composting (aerobic digesters with food waste, although it is possible that plant based polymers may be filtered out of this system) 

It is my belief that if we do not put legislation, standards, infrastructure and clear labelling in place now, "biodegradable plastics" have the potential to have a massive impact on our already suffocating environment. 


It is incredibly hard to find information on this subject and I made the decision to write about it in the hope that likeminded individuals will get in touch and add to my thoughts.  Waste management is currently complex and I implore the Government, big brands, product and packaging designers, scientists and waste facilities to put their heads together and use some joined up thinking.  Let's connect those dots.

The Ban List (link below) has provided some much needed evidence about how biodegradable plastics behave in the environment and back up my concerns.  

Please do get in touch if you have something to add to this article.  We're all on a journey to find better solutions and I would be very interested to hear what you have to say.  I do not claim to be an expert on this subject but fear the consequences of businesses keen to be a part of the solution to the plastics problem inadvertently adding to it.  

If we don't ask the questions we won't find the answers.

Written by Avril Sainsbury

Ei8ht Design

Cleaner Seas Project


Research and notes taken from:

The BAN List 2. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5522e85be4b0b65a7c78ac96/t/5a99d29d41920278291296a4/1520030386318/5Gyres+BAN+List+2018.pdf …