Why we shouldn’t use compostable and biodegradable packaging

Éco Entreprises Québec (ÉEQ) and consulting firm SOLINOV, which specializes in environment and organic waste management, have produced a report on the use and end-of-life impact of compostable and biodegradable plastic packaging and the environmental challenges they cause.

We particularly note that a large proportion of this packaging ends up in landfills since the residual materials management systems in place are not able to process it.

“Compostable and biodegradable plastic packaging is very hard to tell apart from other plastics during sorting, both in homes and in industrial composting installations; in addition, those new materials often do not break down fast enough or completely”, says Marie-Hélène Gravel, project lead at SOLINOV and co-author of the report. 

For 10 years now, ÉEQ has guided businesses that finance curbside recycling in their ecodesign packaging initiatives. Geneviève Dionne, director, ecodesign and circular economy at ÉEQ, is well placed to know the increasingly frequent questions companies have about so-called compostable or biodegradable packaging as part of that guidance and support work.

Indeed, the labels “biodegradable” and “compostable” on packaging are an environmental claim made by the companies themselves, one that is not verified by an independent third party, except if the package is certified.

However, certification means that a package is compostable, and that compostability has been lab tested under specific, controlled conditions, which are different from conditions in the field. Therefore, it’s fair to question the actual biodegradability or compostability of a packaging identified as such by its manufacturer.

Read the report

Ecodesign as a solution for companies

“In order to make better packaging choices, it is important to consider the product that packaging is meant to hold and protect. The ecodesign approach takes into account the life cycle of both the packaging and the product, from its procurement to the end of its useful life, and on a systemic level. Through ecodesign, we identify improvement leads that allow us to steer clear of inadequate solutions, like compostable plastic packaging”, says Geneviève Dionne.

Please note that all such packaging are subject to government regulations and must be reported to ÉEQ by companies that place them on the Quebec market. As part of the curbside recycling system modernization process, ÉEQ is currently working on eco-modulating its Schedule of Contributions to allocate financial incentives to companies that choose to get on the path to circular economy through ecodesign.