US – Organic food delivery company Abel & Cole is swapping its compostable packaging for recyclable paper bags following concerns that the plastic only breaks down under certain conditions.

According to the company, compostable plastics can be as harmful as their virgin counterparts if local waste collectors do not possess the right equipment to break them down.

This comes following research by University College London which found evidence to show that compostable plastic only breaks down under specific conditions and the process was not happening consistently via local authority facilities or in-home compost heaps.

As such, Abel & Cole has announced that it will work with its suppliers to cut such plastics from its packaging by the end of 2023.

It is also working towards the extension of its Club Zero refillable range and claims to continue collecting hard-to-recycle flexible plastics from its customers via the Plastic Pick-Up scheme. All three commitments aim to contribute towards the reduction of plastic pollution.

“We can’t fix the problem of compostable plastic pollution alone. We’re calling on decision-makers in the food industry to join us too,” Abel & Cole sustainability project manager, Hugo Lynch told The Grocer.

“Until recently we thought compostable plastic ended up as compost. Growing evidence shows that’s not always the case.

“It turns out that compostable plastic only breaks down under certain conditions, and unless your local authority has access to the right equipment, compostable plastic behaves a lot like regular plastic.

“That’s why we’ve decided to remove compostable plastic in our core Fruit & Veg Boxes. And we’re working hard with all our suppliers to completely remove it from our range by the end of 2023.”

There are also concerns surrounding compostable packaging’s compatibility with existing recycling systems and its ability to fully protect the products contained within it.

Compostable plastics are found to end up creating microplastics and contaminating other plastics recycling streams.

In addition, biodegradable plastics can leave harmful toxins in the surrounding area, if composting is carried out in the soil.

Despite all this, this type of packaging’s biggest benefit is, when disposed of and processed in the correct way, it can be turned into natural materials, such as soil or compost, at a much faster rate than traditional plastic counterparts.

When being processed through anaerobic digestion facilities — the breaking down of organic material by micro-organisms in the absence of oxygen — it can be turned into renewable energy.

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