The Packaging Forum says that contrary to recent media stories, a New Zealand study conducted in 2015 estimated that there are around 14 commercial facilities which are or could become capable of composting clear and crystalised PLA which are they types of material most commonly used in compostable cups and lids.
Lyn Mayes, Communications Manager for the Packaging Forum said: “Over the past few years New Zealand cafes and businesses have moved to coffee cups which are compostable. Our members include manufacturers and distributors of cups with lids and brands which sell hot drinks as well as collectors of the materials so it is important that consumers have the facts. In 2015 we commissioned Beyond the Bin Director Kim Renshaw to undertake a survey to assess how many composting facilities in New Zealand could process compostable packaging products like PLA.”
Compostable cups and lids are made of different materials and how they break down in a compost facility is dependent upon the process.
Kim Renshaw said: “We found that the success of New Zealand composters to process PLA and C-PLA was largely related to process. C-PLA (coffee cup lid material) takes much longer than PLA (clear bio-plastic) to break down because it has been crystalised to withstand the heat of a hot drink. Some New Zealand composters have adjusted their practices to speed up the composting process, to effectively break down this type of bioplastic. Beyond the Bin estimated there was 14 commercial composting facilities around New Zealand capable of composting clear and crystalised PLA when we undertook the survey last year.”
Mayes says that the Packaging Forum has established a Working Group to review the coffee cups and lids on the market and to provide guidance for consumers about how to dispose of them: “As the market has moved to compostable cups, recyclers say they cannot accept coffee cups for recycling because consumers don’t know which cups are paper and which have a PLA, bio plastic or plastic liner. We are now looking at where the market will be in 2-3 years’ time and that there will be many more compostable products in the waste stream. We encourage people to use reusable cups but we know that New Zealanders love their coffee on the go and it is important for us to develop single use products which have a productive end of life use.”
“As Kim says, there are facilities in New Zealand which can process PLA cups and lids now. There is also growing investment globally in small scale compost units which can be used at venues to compost these packaging materials and these will become available in New Zealand. There are already good examples such as Home Grown Waiheke Trust which has designed a domestic-type composting system specifically for community composting which composted 2280 litres of compostable packaging at the two Fat Freddy’s Drop concerts earlier this year.”