Compostable packaging a must
A leading Sligo restaurateur has laid down a challenge to manufacturers to produce packaging that is 100% compostable.
Carolanne Rushe, owner of vegan restaurants Sweet Beat and Sweet As, says that some of the packaging currently branded as compostable can sometimes contain plastic which does not break down. As a result, many well-meaning restaurant & coffee shop owners are unknowingly buying packaging which is branded as compostable, but which also contains a plastic film coating.
"I see a lot of it happening in places if I go to eat out. If there's a takeaway box there - it looks exactly like the one that we have - but it actually has a plastic lining, and people are being sold this idea that it is compostable but it's actually not. It can't go into the compostable bin. Some companies are selling coffee cups that have a compostable outer cover but the inside cup itself is plastic," she says.
According to Carolanne, the blame for the confusion as to what is fully compostable or not lies with the manufacturers and suppliers. She says that most restaurant owners she knows who buy this product are doing so in good faith.
"Customers like myself are so desperate to make the move to compostability. People who are now changing over from plastics to compostable, it's a big changeover if you want to change all of your takeaway packaging to compostables. You have to look into it and find the best distributor," she says, adding that if restaurants vote with their feet, this will force the manufacturers to supply only fully compostable products.
Pete Murtagh is a member of the Green Aware Sligo team and is also Environmental Awareness Officer with Sligo County Council. He agrees with Carolanne's description of some packaging not being fully compostable, but he offers the following advice to those who want to package their products in an environmentally friendly way.
"Biodegradable doesn't always mean compostable, which can lead to confusion. Compostable products are made from natural plant based materials and break right down in to compost. So it is important to ensure that you are buying fully compostable products. And it is the right way to go. Even if packaging is made from otherwise recyclable materials, once it has food on it, then it becomes non-recyclable & must go in the landfill bin. But compostable packaging should go in to the brown bin, and therefore avoids landfill & is less costly, and is eventually re-used as compost".
So what of the increased cost of compostables in comparison with plastics? We all accept that single use plastics have to be eliminated, but is there an added cost for compostable packaging? Carolanne says that while the fully compostable packaging she buys from Cork-based company Down To Earth is more expensive, she thinks this added cost is worth it, both environmentally and in terms of customer expectations.
"It matters hugely," she says of customer reactions to compostable packaging. "You do get a really positive feedback, and we are not adding on an extra cost for it. It's absorbed into the price of our food, coffee and drinks. If you are going to go for the real deal, you might be spending an extra 10 cent on a coffee cup."
Despite the extra cost, Carolanne says that she wouldn't consider going back to plastic packaging and would encourage others to do this too. With improved awareness and pressure on the manufacturers, there is no reason why the cost of compostables shouldn't decrease in the future.