[CHALLENGE] Single-Use Compostables: Making them work for facilities. How can Canadians keep our compost clean?

Disposable, single-use food service ware and packaging are a part of most Canadian’s daily lives, and are filling up our landfills. Innovative compostable versions have been entering the market the past ~25 years. Now, single-use compostables range from simple, uncoated paper plates, to double-layer biopolymer coated hot cups, all the way to multi-laminate, resealable, compostable stand up pouches.

Compostable products have the potential to not only divert conventional food ware and packaging from landfill, but also make it easier to comply with municipal organics bans, and capture the food scraps that are unintentionally landfilled in non-compostable packaging.

Compostables’ biggest gap is limited green bin approval, because facilities don’t always accept compostables.

Even composting facilities that know compostables break down will refuse them from public or home green bins, to prevent contamination. Consumer confusion mixes compostables with non-compostables, reducing compost quality. However, many facilities will accept compostables when a load can be guaranteed uncontaminated (e.g. in a closed-loop event or business).

So, how can we educate the public to eliminate contamination, keeping non-compostables out of the compost? What can a compostables brand do to facilitate this?

Re: OSCE Day 2016
This challenge started as:
How can we reduce contamination from non-compostables in the organic waste stream, in order to help truly compostable products be accepted at composting facilities?

This challenge ended as:
The same! At this year’s OSCEday we had a plethora of challenges and a hubbub of people gathering around others, so we joined forces with the “eliminating single use disposables” challenge and lent our ears and opinions.

Describe the evolution of your group’s thought process, what you did during the day:
Our team, as mentioned above, joined another challenge, having not gathered enough participants to focus on our challenge exclusively. We came to a few helpful understandings from this experience:
(1) Our challenge is so specific, it isn’t easily relatable for those not involved with the composting industry.
(2) Our challenge is related to eliminating single use disposables altogether - and in these circles, when given the option to contribute to that discussion or to ours, eliminating wins!

Key things you learned:
Many people have good ideas about how to reduce the use of single-use products, but it’s also obvious that disposable products are not going anywhere fast, and that in some sectors they will never be eliminated (e.g. medical).
The need for compostable and fully recyclable single-use products to replace landfill-bound materials is ever more important!

The feedback you received, and how it was applied:
Since our challenge wasn’t discussed at this year’s OSCEday, we didn’t get any feedback on the challenge per se. But, since we joined with the Eliminating Single-use disposables group, we gleaned some interesting perspectives on disposables in general, the barriers to losing them and advantages to using them.

The practical outcome of this challenge is:
We have more work to do! Our question is unique, and shared by only a few other stakeholders who are passionate about making sure compostable products are actually composted in Canada.
We’ll continue pursuing research with academia across Canada to deal with our pressing compostables questions - Which facilities do they work best in? Which don’t they? How can we maintain brand identity, but help facility operators recognize and accept our products as compostables?

The Future: What elements did you decide to: pursue, pivot, purge, pause?
Since our challenge was not explored this time around, we’ve paused the question of reducing contamination and are refocusing on good design to make composting our products easier.