Composting, the way forward
for food waste
Did you know that 157,398 tonnes of avoidable food waste is being sent to landfill each year?
The average New Zealand household in 2018 wasted $644 worth of food per year (approximately 86kg’s). Over 40% of what we send to landfill is organic material and could be composted. We see composting as a way forward to reduce waste, all the while producing a valuable resource – compost. That’s why we use the brand Love Our Land.
Bags used to carry food or goods have been around for many years in all forms – paper bags, plastic bags, and in more recent times, compostable bags. They are convenient and easy to use, that’s why there is still a place for them in our modern lives.
Love Our Land think it is important to consider your bags end of life, it’s reusability or it’s recyclability. While there are many arguments for all materials, we back compostables.
Compostable bags are not as damaging to the environment compared with manufacturing paper bags. Compostable bags do not last for many years like plastic, and can be turned into compost in under 90 days. If our bags get into the environment they have a chance of breaking down (under the right conditions).
Tell me more…
What is the composition of composable bags?
Made with bio-based materials, the Love Our Land range of products are designed to mirror the durability and practicality of their traditional plastic counterparts. However, unlike plastic, our finished products will break down in a home composting environment without harming the earth.
Our products are made from a combination of corn-starch, biodegradable ingredients and some proprietary elements, which result in the creation of our resin. We only use the best quality resin from reputable suppliers.
The corn used by our supplier is sourced from the Northern regions of China where there is an abundance of second or third grade quality corn. It is estimated that Northern China produces over 800,000 hectares of corn per annum. Only the spoilt corn, which is unfit for human or animal consumption, is used by our supplier. This is approximately 5% of the corn grown, and from this 5%, our supplier extracts and convert the corn-starch for use in their resin.
We take pride in knowing that all our processes and actions affect the environment in a positive manner. Hence, the non-food grade corn is grown using natural rainfall rather than irrigation to minimise the impacts on our precious water resources.
What's the difference between compostable, biodegradable and degradable?
With a variety of green and environmental products in the market since the ban of the single-use plastic bag, it is easy to find yourself confused or misled by various terminologies - including the definition of biodegradable, compostable and degradable. Scroll through the table below...
These are usually a plant-based polymer (corn or sugar cane), with a percentage addition of biodegradable elements. Compostable refers to the biological breakdown by microbes of organic materials, within a composting environment as stipulated by international standards. All Love Our Land bags all are certified to meet these standards. An ideal composting environment needs heat, moisture and oxygen. Decomposition of such materials results in the addition of rich nutrients to the soil and can be a very effective form of fertiliser for both commercial and home use.
Make sure you check what standard of certification your compostable product shows on the bag or packaging. Some are only certified for industrial/commercial composting and thus will not break down adequately in your own home compost facility.
Industrial composting is typically a shorter timeframe than home composting because the temperatures reached inside an industrial compost are considerably higher (50°C -70°C), as it is under a controlled process. A home compost bin will have variable temperatures and conditions (depending on local factors e.g. geographic location within NZ), therefore this results in a longer breakdown process. Compostable bags are also made in various thicknesses and contain various amounts of biomass.
The big difference between biodegradable and compostable is the timeframe required to breakdown as set out by the international composting standard.
Biodegradable indicates the process of biological breakdown by microorganisms including, bacteria, fungi and enzymes. These microorganisms eat away at the biodegradable material leaving behind only natural constituents of biomass, carbon dioxide and water. Subsequently these natural materials can be safely re-absorbed back into the earth. The problem is almost anything can be called Biodegradable - there is no time frame on any product to breakdown, so take any claims with a grain of salt.
Degradable products are oil-based with an additive included to trigger the process of degradation. These types of oxy-degradable bags are not biodegradable or compostable. Degradable materials break down via a chemical reaction due to the additive and the end results of degradation is only smaller fragments leaving behind the same amount of micro plastic. The NZ government also banned oxy-degradable bags in 2019.
Conventional plastic bags:
Conventional plastic bags contain polyethylene (derived from natural gas and petroleum), and sold as either a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or low density polyethylene (LDPE). Although plastic bags are an incredibly useful product, they will take hundreds of years to degrade (if ever).
Plastic bags also take considerable resources to produce. Usually after only being used once, they are sent to landfills. If not disposed of properly, they can also escape and pollute NZ’s environment. Over 90% of soft plastic has never been recycled. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans, one study suggests. Thus, single-use plastic bags were banned in 2019 by the NZ government.
There is currently a soft plastics recycling scheme that is running in conjunction with the supermarkets and other major retail outlets – consumers can drop their soft plastics off and they are collected and re-used for ridged furniture and fence posts etc.
Did you know the conventional single use plastic bag was invented to replace the single use paper bag as an eco-friendlier option?! Paper bags are made from the pulp of wood, and while they are recyclable and biodegradable, they are the worst of all bags for the environment. This is due to the amount of fossil fuels consumed and CO2 released in the manufacturing process (not to mention the cutting down of trees for the pulp). Furthermore, every time paper is recycled, the fiber becomes shorter, weaker and more brittle. In general, paper can be recycled up to seven times before it must be discarded.
Some paper bags are also coated with plastic on the inside, which then makes them completely unsuitable for recycling. You can purchase paper bags that are compostable, but please check they are certified compostable before putting them in your home compost!
Standards and Certifications
Claims of compostability are validated by certified professional bodies e.g. the Australian Bioplastics Association (ABA) and TÜV in Europe. Common standards for compostable products in NZ are:
- The Australian Standard (AS4736-2006)
- The European Standard (EN13432-2000)
- The American Standard (ASTM D6400)
The Love Our Land products are certified to these standards:
- The Australian Standard (AS4736-2006)
- The European Standard (EN13432-2000)
From these standards it can be seen that biodegradable and compostable products are required to breakdown at a 90% level within six months, in a range of settings that simulate litter and aerobic composting environments.
Degradation and decomposition must be by genuine microbial action resulting in organic components, rather than mere structural decomposition into smaller pieces (microplastics) as with ‘degradable’ plastics. The biodegradable and compostable material in our bags will decompose via microbial action in 45 days.
Additional requirements of the various standards include a mandatory requirement for a volatile solid product composition of greater than a 50% level – a requirement at which our materials exceed, at 99% volatile solid level.
This Australian Standard AS 4736 is similar to the widely known European EN 13432 standard, but has an additional requirement of a worm toxicity test. According to the Australian Bioplastics website (https://bioplastics.org.au), in order to comply with the AS 4736‐2006, plastic materials need to meet the following requirements:
- Minimum of 90% biodegradation of plastic materials within 180 days in compost
- Minimum of 90% of plastic materials should disintegrate into less than 2mm pieces in compost within 12 weeks
- No toxic effect of the resulting compost on plants and earthworms
- Hazardous substances such as heavy metals should not be present above the maximum allowed levels
- Plastic materials should contain more than 50% organic materials
Acting as the New Zealand agent, ECP works closely with our overseas compostable suppliers. Their quality laboratories operate under high standards and product stewardship, ensuring certification is granted without reservation.
This gives ECP total confidence in promoting their products across our New Zealand customer base.
Logo's shown below are for the TUV and Australian Standard. These logo's are shown on the compostable products ECP distributes.
Marine environments – extract from WasteMinz
“Standards exist for biodegradation in soil, water and marine environments, but these have been developed for products that are specifically designed to be used in these environments (e.g. mulch film, or mussel ropes). There are concerns around the validity of these standards because these environments are more variable than composting. For example, it is difficult to prove that a product advertised as “biodegradable in marine” will biodegrade in all marine environments given the varying degrees of temperature and levels of oxygen present in the sea”
Further information can be found here: wasteminz.org.nz
What’s the verdict?
There are pros and cons to every decision we make when selecting plastic bag alternatives.
That is why Love Our Land believe the best way to help our environment is to minimise the use of any type of bag/plastic and what goes to landfill. Using industrial composing facilities, home composting (to reduce your household waste), or recycling materials, will have a positive effect on landfill reduction. Love Our Land also have a range of reusable bags which assist with this focus.
Home composting basics
Did you know that 52% of kiwis are now proactively composting at home? The Love Our Land bin liners and produce bags are all certified Home Compostable, which means you can fill them with your organic material / food scraps and put them straight into your compost bin - bag and all.
After the composting process has been completed you have added nutrients back to your garden.
Common Examples of compostable household waste:
Vegetable and fruit scraps, grass clippings, leaves, coffee grounds, paper and cardboard (uncoated), crushed egg shells, pasta/rice, breads, nuts, seaweed, popcorn, toothpicks, bamboo skewers, tissues, nail clippings, cotton balls, dryer lint, hair, pencil shavings, flowers.
Things to avoid in your home compost:
- Too much meat or milk products (while meat and dairy products are perfectly biodegradable, they can attract unwanted pests to your backyard or green bin)\Too much baked goods
- Treated sawdust
- Too many acid foods
- Too much oil and grease
- Pet and human waste
- Too many weeds (to avoid them spreading seeds and sprouting again in your garden)
Tips on how to avoid wasting food, is available on the Love Food Hate Waste website: lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz/
The simple rule is anything that once was plant based or made from organic material can be composted.
If an item contains all organic material, it will break down and turn into nutrient rich compost. A compost can be a simple pile in the corner of your garden, or you may monitor your compost process with the use of a compost bin.
To ensure a good end result, ensure you have a good balance of dry or brown material that contains carbon (like leaves, straw, or paper) and wet or green waste that contains nitrogen (like food scraps). Water can be added to speed up the process if it’s too dry.
Many factors will affect the speed at which the breakdown of compostable products occurs in a home compost, including the ratio of green inputs (i.e. food scraps and garden waste) to brown inputs (dry leaves, paper, compostable packaging). If you add more compostable packaging than food waste, for example, the compost may be too dry to break down successfully. It may help to break the compostable product or packaging into smaller pieces so it breaks down faster and make sure it’s mixed well.
For a full list of New Zealand facilities that accept compostable packaging please see the https://www.wasteminz.org.nz/sector-groups/compost-nz/new-zealand-facilities-that-accept-compostable-packaging-and-food-serviceware/ Please be aware that commercial composting facilities have different criteria regarding the materials they will accept, based on their composting methods.
Soft plastic recycling
There is a soft plastic recycling scheme in NZ. All you need to do is collect all the soft plastic packaging which you use at home, make sure the bags are clean, dry and empty and drop them into the Love NZ Soft Plastics Recycling bins at supermarkets and other stores (The Warehouse, Huckleberry).
Please remember they only accept clean, dry and empty soft plastic bags and packaging. Food scraps and liquid will contaminate all the other bags in the bin. Hard plastic and metal objects will damage the processing plant. Don’t put your compostable bags into the soft plastic recycling. A current issue with this scheme is NZ has limited processing capacity for this low value product.
For locations see: recycling.kiwi.nz/solutions/soft-plastics/store-locator
Kerbside food collections
Many councils around NZ are adopting a kerbside collection service for food waste from households.
Christchurch, Timaru, New Plymouth, Hamilton, Ruapehu and other councils are already are running kerbside food waste collection schemes very successfully.
Tauranga and Western Bays District Council will also adopt a scheme in 2021, followed by Auckland Council in 2022.
Organic waste collection
The following companies collect organic waste and deliver to commercial composting facilities (please note that this is not an exhaustive list – you may be able to find others in your area).
Collect from hotels, restaurants, cafes and businesses
Collect from events and festivals
Little & Brave
Collect compostable bags, nappies and wipes
Collect from fast food outlets and food manufacturers
Residential and commercial collections
Commercial collections Auckland
Green waste services
Commercial collections – food waste and compostable packaging
Green waste services
Connecting people who wish to recycle their kitchen scraps with their neighbours who are already composting, worm-farming or keep chickens
Kaicycle composting takes compostable scraps from homes, offices and small businesses and recycles them into living compost
Green waste services Nelson/Tasman
If you want to be on this list, please contact us
A note on Landfills – extract from WasteMinz website
“Modern landfills differ from the old dumps that used to be common in New Zealand. Modern landfills are engineered to protect the environment from leachate and landfill gases which are produced when waste degrades. Waste with a high organic content may still degrade within a landfill, however, this process occurs differently from a composting facility and requires engineering controls to manage the potential adverse impacts on the environment. Some modern landfills are consciously designed as a biodigester, where organic matter, particularly food and green waste, is anaerobically degraded and the resulting methane is used for power generation or heating”.
Independent bodies as below:
Zero Waste Network
Ministry for the Environment
Sustainable Business Network