Commercial Composting vs. Home Composting: What’s the Difference?
As an establishment that purchases compostable food packaging, you may have noticed that some of your items are labeled as commercially compostable.
So, what does commercially compostable mean, and is there a difference between items labeled as commercially compostable and those just labeled compostable?
Yes. There are two types of composting methods: commercial composting and home composting. These are two different processes.
In short, certain compostable products, like foodservice disposable items, can not be fully composted in a home compost system and require you or your customers to drop them off at a commercial composting site.
Given that, it is crucial to understand the disposal options available in your area. Commercial compost facilities are not available everywhere.
If you’re providing your patrons with compostable disposables, you’re probably doing so to lower your ecological footprint and showcase your sustainability efforts. Should you and your customers not have access to a commercial composter, commercially compostable foodservice disposables are likely not the most sustainable option.
In this article, we’ll explore the difference between home and commercial composting and how the distinction might play a role in the packaging materials you choose to offer your customers.
What is Composting?
Composting is the process of turning organic materials into a nutrient-rich resource to be used with soil. Through a controlled process that utilizes water, plant, and food waste, these materials are decomposed at an accelerated rate.
What Is Commercial Composting?
Commercial composting, also referred to as industrial composting, is composting on a larger scale than at-home composting.
Waste piles are carefully monitored and managed, allowing for the decomposition of materials that home compost piles would usually have difficulty with because they are not continuously controlled or managed.
Generally speaking, most composters would like the material they allow into their facilities to break down in fewer than 80 days, according to the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI).
How Does Commercial Composting Work?
If commercial composting is available in your area, collection bins are distributed to homes and businesses to gather organic waste.
The bin is then collected and the contents are added to large composting piles at the composting facility.
There, one of three methods is used to process the organic matter:
- Windrows: long rows of waste are aerated by mechanical turning.
- In-vessel: waste is placed into a controlled vessel and physically turned.
- Aerated static pile: piles of waste are layered with branches or wood chips to allow the passage of air and a network of pipes move air through each pile.
What Is At-Home Composting?
At-home composting, also referred to as residential composting, is the process of performing composting on a small scale.
Composting piles can be kept indoors or outdoors and are usually kept in a bin.
How Does Residential Composting Work?
Compost piles or bins are kept in a shady area and maintained with moisture, green waste, and proper turning.
Piles are kept moist to facilitate decomposition. When composting is done at home, the process can take up to two years to produce usable compost.
So, What’s The Difference Between Home Vs Commercial Composting?
- Home composting cannot process as many types of organic matter as commercial composting can. Some materials, like compostable foodservice products, will not decompose fully in an at-home composting pile.
- Compost made in a commercial composting site can be resold into the community and used to fertilize soil.
- Organic material accepted at commercial composting sites tends to require higher constant composting temperatures than material recommended to be added into at-home piles.
Should You Offer Commercially Compostable Disposables?
Generally, compostable items are more expensive than single-use recyclable items. Given that, it will be imperative that the items you are providing to your customers can be properly composted in your area.
If your customers can not properly compost the items at a facility nearby and they are, instead, throwing them away, it is no longer a sustainable option. As a result, the extra money you are spending on these compostable items is lost.
Where Can Commercial Composting Sites Be Found?
To know if there’s a commercial compost facility near you, you can use a facility finder to locate a site in your area.
If a facility near you services your area, it might be beneficial to include commercially compostable products in your foodservice disposables program.
Pro Tip: Compostable items will typically say compostable somewhere on the container. Compostable items also have the number 7 in the three arrows that chase each other.
You can also check with your local facility to confirm that they accept the products you are looking to provide to your customers.
When purchasing compostable foodservice items, it's important to consider if you and your customers can properly compost the products in your area.
If your disposable food packaging is labeled “commercially compostable,” it can not be composted at home.
Home composting and commercial composting are different.
When marked as commercially compostable, the product will break down into organic materials in a specified period of time, but only in a commercial composting facility.
Choosing commercially compostable containers will only help you meet sustainability goals when you and your customers are able to dispose of those containers in the appropriate way.
EBP has a variety of sustainable foodservice disposables to support the needs, budget, and demands of your business.
We can help you match your sustainability goals to the right foodservice disposables for your business. Contact an EBP Foodservice Specialist today to review your foodservice program.