Composting Vegware & Eco Friendly Biodegradable Food Packaging In the HOTBIN
The HOTBIN was developed to compost all domestic food and garden waste however in 2012 HOTBIN were contacted by Lucy Frankel at the Food Waste Network who was building a network to help commercial business do more to divert food waste from landfill*.
The discussion surrounded the use of HOTBIN for small cafes, restaurants, hotels and specifically whether the HOTBIN could compost biodegradable food packaging. Lucy who also worked for Vegware requested some specific tests to see if biodegradable Vegware takeaway packaging such as cups, tableware, glasses and fast food containers would compost down in the HOTBIN.
What is Vegware Made From?
Biodegradable Vegware food packaging is made from either PLA or CPLA, both materials derived from plant based substances.
PLA is made from corn starch (similar to food caddy bags) and is an ideal replacement for oil-based plastic in a multitude of applications. These include films, thermoformed products such as cups and deli pots, and also injection-moulded products.
CPLA is a proprietary combination of PLA, chalk and other biodegradable additives and is considered tougher that PLA. CPLA is suitable for high-heat applications such as making cutlery and hot cup lids, as it can take temperatures of up to 85°C without any deformation but is still vulnerable to bacteria during the composting process.
Starting the Trial
Lucy supplied a range of products made from both PLA and CPLA which included cups, plates, takeaway boxes, glasses and cutlery. As with all waste added into the HOTBIN, these items were chopped up first to increase the surface area available to bacteria to speed up the composting process.
To fully test how the items broke down in the bin they were only added into the HOTBIN once the temperature was over 40c and in this test the HOTBIN was running 50c. Given that biodegradable packaging doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value for bacteria to break down the Vegware items were added every weekend along with fresh food waste.
After Two Weeks
The containers which were similar to cardboard had no visible remains within the HOTBIN unit. The ‘clear plastic’ (PLA) pots had started to compost with the material noticeably changing colour to white and starting to curl up at the edges. The tougher CPLA spoons and forks unsurprisingly needed longer in the unit for bacteria to continue breaking them down and produce a noticeable effect.
After Six Weeks
Only one fragment of ‘clear plastic’ (PLA) glasses remained and the tougher CPLA spoons and forks had all but gone except for two fragments.
We hoped to discover if the HOTBIN could compost biodegradable food packaging products and if so then Vegware products could be composted both at home and at commercial premises.
Our trial showed that the HOTBIN successfully composted all the Vegware food packaging supplied with no problems, the only difference was time with the PLA based materials the quickest to breakdown and the CPLA based materials taking a little longer.
Assessing the small fragments that were left after six weeks they were noticeably decomposed and felt soft to the touch. It is possible that these fell to the side when added and dropped to the lower colder zone during stirring, however given their final condition if left in the unit for slightly longer or added back into the top of the unit they would certainly have fully composted within the 12 week timescale stated for a rich compost, if not sooner.
What About Biodegradable Caddy Bags?
Biodegradable bags will compost in the HOTBIN but we advise shredding them prior to adding which reduces the likelihood of causing any blockages in aeration in the unit. You can find out more by reading the post about composting food caddy bags and liners.
*Noting a limitation under ABPR that each commercial site would need to have its own garden/land to use any compost made.
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