Compostable plastic food service packaging rarely finds its way into America's commercial composting operations.
But a new study by the Foodservice Packaging Institute hopes to help change that by providing some real-world proof that the material can be successfully handled at these locations.
Less than 10 percent of all commercial composting operations in the United States accept food scraps, and even fewer accept food service packaging, according to Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute.
"We need that infrastructure. We need that infrastructure available to be able to compost our material. And if there are no composters available, we're not going to be able to close that loop for compostable items," she said.
FPI, a trade group, looked at the compostable issue that includes both paper and plastic items.
"There are not a lot of composters out there who are accepting food scraps and even less are accepting food service packaging," she said.
There have been discussions about the merits of allowing compostable food service packaging in commercial operations, Dyer said, "but nobody had hard data on it."
FPI set out to change that.
"From our standpoint, it's really taking another look at the options," she said. "We've been trying to do what we can to try to get more food service packaging recycled or composted.
"On the composting side, whether that's paper or plastics, what's really important to the composters is really understanding those feedstocks and what the benefits are in terms of food service packaging and what benefits they offer to the composters," Dyer said.
"One of the things that no one has ever taken a look at is how those food service packages, whether they are paper or plastic, how do they compare to those traditional feedstocks that those composters look to when they are creating their recipe of materials," she continued.
Composters, traditionally, have not strayed too far from materials such as yard waste, trees and grass in their operations.
Food service packaging can contribute to the compost mix and help deliver food scraps to the pile, the trade group president said.
"Given these findings, the traditional view that compostable food service packaging is only beneficial in as much as it brings food to the facility may need to be reconsidered, the study states.
Word of the new report comes as a Vancouver, British Columbia-based company has unveiled plans to invest $70 million to make compostable foodservice trays in Colleton County, S.C.
Evanesce Packaging Solutions said the project will create 368 jobs over five years and produce compostable trays for the meat, seafood, vegetable and meal markets in the United States.
Production in Walterboro is expected to begin early next year in the Colleton County Commerce Center Building.
The Foodservice Packaging Institute report is available at www.recyclefsp.org under the composting and anaerobic digestion facilities section on the home page.