If we’re serious about tackling food waste, all states must take South Australia’s lead and back compostable packaging. Richard Fernandez of TIPA Compostable Packaging writes for PKN.

In 1989, sailor Ian Kiernan set out on a litter picking mission. Shocked by the pollution he encountered while out on his boat, he galvanised more than 40,000 volunteers for Clean Up Sydney Harbour, a community event which saw some 5000 tonnes of litter collected from the area.

The event’s success led to the inaugural Clean Up Australia Day just one year later. Tackling waste shot up the political agenda and Government was forced to review its policies to confront the growing pollution problem. Deposit refund schemes and taxes on non-recyclable products were considered, but only one state implemented them at the time: South Australia.

Fast forward to today and tackling the waste crisis has never been more important. Global emissions are rising and a key contributor is food waste. If it were a country, it would have the third-biggest carbon footprint behind China and the United States due to the resources required to produce food that is never eaten, and crucially the emissions created when food waste is sent to landfill.

When food rots it releases methane, a greenhouse gas more than 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide at heating the atmosphere. In Australia we waste approximately seven million tonnes of food each year, equivalent to one in every five bags of groceries we buy. The vast majority – some five million tonnes – is sent to landfill.

All states and territories have committed to tackling this crisis by introducing separate organic waste collections for households and businesses by 2023. Food waste will be diverted to a much greener system where processing facilities will recycle it, creating compost to replenish our depleting soils. But once again it’s South Australia that’s leading the way on the waste policy that will ensure these collections are a success.

Separating food waste from other household waste can be messy business, especially when it has gone off in its packaging. South Australia’s solution – mirroring successful initiatives in Europe – is to accept compostable packaging in its organic waste collections. Such material has to be independently certified as suitable for placing in the composting process, and when it is used to wrap food – in a salad bag, a bread bag, or a pouch for dried fruit – you can dispose of anything that has gone off without first removing the packaging, and it will all create compost. 

 Example of TIPA's compostable packaging 

Residents of South Australia will also be able to line their food waste bins with a compostable bag, which has been shown internationally to encourage food waste separation by further removing the “ick factor” of collecting rotten food.

Compostable packaging is not a new phenomenon, and with the Government committed to ensuring all packaging be either reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, its popularity is set to rise. Brands and the public are waking up to the reality that conventional plastic can only be recycled a handful of times before it becomes useless, and is landfilled or incinerated. By contrast, compostable packaging can help carry food waste to soil, and breaks down without leaving any microplastics behind. As it becomes more mainstream the systems must be in place to process it properly, and collecting it with food waste will facilitate this.

South Australia has been a pioneer on environmental waste policy for decades, and its latest move to accept compostable packaging with food waste collections is case-in-point. If other states and territories don’t follow its lead the collections risk falling flat, and their vital contribution to reducing emissions may never be realized.

Richard Fernandez is sales director, Australia & New Zealand at TIPA Compostable Packaging.

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