Blog 4 - Compostables and Business

Blog 4 - Compostables and Business

Sligo business owner challenges industry on quality of compostable packaging

A leading Sligo restauranteur has laid down a challenge to manufacturers to produce compostable packaging that is 100% biodegradable.
Carolanne Rushe, owner of vegan restaurants Sweet Beat and Sweet As says that some of the packaging currently branded as compostable contains elements of plastic which do not break down. As a result, many well-meaning restaurant, café and coffee shop owners are unknowingly buying packaging which is branded as compostable but also contain 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. 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 this 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.

“Compostable products are made from natural plant based materials and break right down in to compost. So it is important to make sure that you are buying fully compostable products. But most business owners who are looking at becoming more environmentally sustainable figure this out pretty quickly. And this is the right way to go, as even if the packaging is made from otherwise recyclable materials, once it has food on it, then it becomes non-recyclable & would have to go in the landfill bin. But compostable packaging should go in to the brown bin, and therefore avoids landfill, 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.

And with better regulation, pressure on the manufacturers and increased awareness, there is no reason why the cost of production of compostables shouldn’t decrease in the future.
As for sharing her experiences with others working in the food business, Carolanne is happy to help raise awareness and to clear up any confusion. “I spend time and money sourcing the right products from the right companies and I’m happy to share that information. I think that Sligo should definitely start making the move, we are a green county, we are on the coast, surrounded by lovely mountains and lakes, and we should be one of the trailblazers when it comes to this side of the food industry.”

Businesses who want more information on compostable packaging, along with other topics relating to more environmentally friendly practices are invited to attend a workshop at the Riverside Hotel in Sligo on October 10th next at 7pm as part of An Taisce’s GLAN initiative.

“The GLAN (Green Local Action Network) Initiative is building on some of the great work being done by community groups throughout Ireland. Single use plastics comes up time and again as a major issue, and the scheme will help local businesses to find ways of reducing their dependency on this type of packaging. So whether you’re a business owner or someone active in your community, then you should come along and share your ideas, and help to figure out ways in which your local community can become more green aware. There are also other supports available for businesses that may need help in becoming more sustainable, like the Eco Merit scheme. They deal with waste, energy and water issues, and even promise to help you save money, while at the same time improving your environmental performance, which is a real win-win! For more information please contact  Olivia Jones