Commercial composting explained
Commercial, also known as industrial, composting facilities are where used Vegware can go to be processed together with food scraps. There are facilities throughout the US, and worldwide, processing used Vegware.Open windrow & In-vessel composting (IVC) are the main processes suited to composting our products, as well as some Anaerobic digestion (AD) plants with a composting phase.
Open windrow is an industrial composting method where compostable matter lies in long piles exposed to air rather than being processed in an enclosed vessel. It is the most common composting process in the US and can successfully compost all of Vegware’s products.
In-vessel composting (IVC)
In-vessel composting is an ideal process for used Vegware products. This method mixes green waste with food scraps and compostable packaging in a fully enclosed vessel. Heat is generated naturally, allowing the material to break down to produce compost free of any harmful bacteria. This compost can then be used as a high quality soil conditioner.
Anaerobic digestion (AD)
Anaerobic digestion converts organic waste into renewable biogas and digestate, a natural fertiliser, in a managed process that is oxygen-free. Some forms of AD can process Vegware, such as dry AD, which includes an aerobic phase.
Vegware's composting solutions
Waste activism is at the heart of Vegware's award-winning environmental services.
Since 2012, our Environmental team have been forging links with the waste sector, identifying new routes to commercial composting and running large-scale trials at industrial composting facilities. We can advise on your composting options, from trade waste collections to on-site composting. No site is too big or too small for us to explore the possibilities. And we encourage customers who compost to offer bring-back schemes so you can capture used Vegware takeaways for composting. Learn more so you can Compost Your Vegware!
Packaging made from plants
Our plant-based compostable foodservice packaging is made from renewable, lower carbon, recycled or reclaimed materials. In its finished form, Vegware can be commercially composted with food scraps, where accepted. We hold the sector's most extensive set of compostability certification, which is an independent guarantee our products can be processed in the correct facilities.
Visual cues like bin signage and posters designed by Vegware helps everyone on your site know which bin to put waste in. Compostable disposables are designed to be recycled in an industrial composting facility together with food scraps. That means there’s no need for sorting, and the compostable cup, lid, burger box, knife and napkin can all go together without removing the ketchup and leftover french fries. An extra bonus is that once food and disposables share one bin, other dry recycling bins are cleaner and easier to recycle.
Vegware can consult on your region’s composting collection options. Compostables are still relative newcomers compared to other materials, so trade collections aren’t yet available everywhere, but we are actively changing this through our partnerships with the waste sector. If there's no collection in your region, the sustainability benefits of using renewable materials, instead of finite oil-based resources, still apply.
Officially defined as a form of recycling, composting keeps resources in your region without relying on export. Your waste is turned into useful resources, helping your business to reduce its environmental impact and join the circular economy. Compost is used in agriculture, horticulture, and landscaping to nourish soil and improve its structure to help grow healthy plants.
On-site compostingFood scraps and Vegware products are gathered, shredded and de-watered together in a macerator. It's then combined with other green waste, plus wood chips, within the composter. In as little as 14 days, you have high-quality mulch to use on-site.
If your organization has large volumes of catering waste, some space, and a use for compost, investing in an on-site composting unit can be an exciting and sustainable solution. It requires an initial investment, plus maintenance costs and a staff to manage it, but in time you can vastly reduce waste collections and produce your own soil improver. Our Environmental team can advise you on the on-site composters that work best with our products.
Watch on-site composting in actionSee how an on-site composter allowed Vegware client Dundee and Angus College to take control of food waste, reduce packaging in canteens, and move away from conventional plastics.
Let us answer your questions on composting
Keen to compost? Get in touch!
- What's the point of disposables being compostable?
- Compostable catering disposables are designed to be recycled in an industrial composting facility together with food scraps. This means there’s no need for sorting, so the compostable cup, lid, burger box, knife, and napkin can all go together without removing the half-eaten sandwich, ketchup or leftover french fries. An added bonus is that once food and disposables share one bin, other dry recycling bins are cleaner and easier to recycle.
Compostability isn’t best for all situations. For example, Vegware wouldn’t make compostable water bottles, as PET plastic already has a developed recycling infrastructure. But when it comes to food-contaminated disposables, compostability is a sensible solution.
- How do compostables solve food scrap contamination?
- Combining plastic and paper products in foodservice packaging creates big recycling problems. Food scrap contamination is inevitable, so the result is everything that is not sorted correctly will end up going to incineration or landfill.
- What’s wrong with recyclable?
- The US used to export most of its plastic for recycling, with no idea of knowing if it actually got recycled. China took a lot of exported recycling from the US, but over the years discovered it isn’t good enough quality or clean enough to recycle. Since January 2018, China has banned imports of household plastics, and only accepts cardboard and paper with less than 0.5% contamination. Other Asian countries are considering, and implementing, similar bans, to avoid becoming a dumping ground for unrecyclable waste. Food scrap contamination is a major problem, and the US recycling industry worries that most US card and paper won’t meet China’s standards.
- Where is it easiest to capture used compostables?
- Vegware’s close ties to the waste sector means we are able to help identify composting solutions for many of our clients – from contract caterers operating on-site dining for large corporate office buildings, hotels, universities, and more – to independent cafes and those holding events such as large-scale festivals or sports venues. Vegware staff has good tips to set up programs in many different kinds of food service operations.
- What about packaging for to-go orders?
- Compostables face the exact same issue as all disposables with to-go orders: How to capture it once it’s walked out the door. All disposables are fighting the same challenges, with the same end goal: Better recycling.
Vegware encourages sites that are commercially composting their used Vegware to offer a bring-back scheme to entice customers to return their used Vegware to-go containers. This can operate as a loyalty card scheme, with customers earning a point or stamp towards a free drink or other treat, for each item returned.
Where composting is not yet an option, remember that Vegware to-go packaging is still made from renewable, plant-based resources, and given the opportunity, can be composted in commercial composting facilities. When it comes to foodservice, conventional plastics are a challenge to recycle due to both our recycling infrastructure and because food residues contaminate plastic packaging causing it to be unrecyclable.
- How can Vegware help clients find composting solutions?
- Our unprecedented engagement with the waste sector means Vegware is uniquely placed to help our clients realize their waste ambitions. Composting collections are still regional rather than nationwide, but we proud to be actively driving change. Vegware has composting partners in many US cities.
Our US Zero Waste Director is an expert on routes to commercial composting – she can consult on your various options:
COMPOSTING REGIONS. Vegware works with the waste sector to actively grow trade waste collection routes. We currently cover select areas in the north, south, east, or west.
ON-SITE COMPOSTERS. If your business has outdoor space, a use for compost, and staff to manage it, investing in an on-site composter can be an exciting and sustainable solution, as seen in this film of Dundee & Angus College. Our Environmental team can advise which models work with our products.
Vegware has the most robust list of composter partners in the sector – become a Vegware customer and we will share our knowledge!
- What is Vegware made from?
- Vegware packaging is made from plants using renewable, recycled or reclaimed materials, and are all designed for industrial composting with food waste. Vegware replaces conventional plastics with various plant-based materials. For example, PLA is a compostable material made from plants. PLA replaces the conventional plastic in coffee cup linings or sandwich windows, and it’s the clear material in our cold cups and deli containers. Our hot cup lids and cutlery are made of a high-heat version of PLA.
Reclaimed sugarcane fiber is another practical material we use for our takeout containers, plates, and bowls. Known as bagasse, it performs very well, keeping heat in while not trapping condensation. Plus, it’s a renewable material and a reclaimed by-product of the sugar industry.
Read more about our eco materials and compostability certification.
- Do plant-based materials work as well as plastic?
- Absolutely. We’ve won awards for our product quality and functionality, in addition to being recognized for our environmentally friendly products and services.
- What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable?
- Same process, different breakdown speeds. Forget the term biodegradable, as it tells us nothing about timelines (wood is biodegradable, but a log cabin can stand for generations). Compostable means something can break down in under 12 weeks and is therefore suitable for industrial composting. Make sure your disposables supplier or brand has compostability certifications like BPI and CMA – that’s the real guarantee.
- What are composting conditions?
- Compostable packaging needs to be in composting conditions in order to compost. Industrial composting creates the perfect balance of microbes, moisture and warmth heat, so that compostable packaging can be included in food waste recycling. Home composting conditions vary with the skill of the householder, so we don’t make any claims there, but there have been successful trials using hot compost bins. The heat generated during composting is a function of the compost pile’s size. A small pile will typically not generate enough heat to break down packaging. Industrial facilities have very large piles.
- What’s the point if I can’t compost it?
- By choosing compostables, foodservice businesses can actively drive changes in US recycling. The more compostables there are in use, the more we can work with the waste sector to extend collections across the USA.
- Which bin should it go in if I can’t compost it?
- Vegware’s compostable catering disposables are designed to break down in under 12 weeks in commercial composting, which provides the perfect balance of microbes, moisture and warmth.
Home composting conditions vary with the skill of the householder, so we don’t make any claims there, but there have been successful trials using hot compost bins. Where there is no access to industrial composting facilities, used Vegware should be put in general waste. Vegware’s disposable packaging is made from plants, using renewable, reclaimed or recycled materials, and these sustainability benefits still apply no matter what happens to them after use.
Used Vegware should not be placed in standard recycling bins which collect paper, plastics and metals, as those materials go to a different type of sorting facility. Another reason is that food waste harms the quality of mechanical recycling – the same applies to any used foodservice disposables.
In landfill, studies have shown that compostable packaging is inert and does not give off methane.
Please do not litter – compostable packaging is not expected to break down when discarded in the environment and is also not a solution to marine pollution.
- Is Vegware suitable for on-site composting?
- Where collections aren’t possible, some on-site composting systems can process used Vegware with food waste. At Dundee and Angus College, for example, the compost produced on site is used in the College gardens by horticulture students – find out more in this short film case study. If your site has some outside space and would be interested in discussing options, just get in touch.
- Why is education so important?
- We’ve had in-house recycling experts for five years now, working closely with the waste sector and helping our foodservice clients set up composting schemes. A key part of the switch-over is education and behavior change, creating clear bin signage and training everyone involved – from customers and catering managers to restaurant staff and waste operatives. The last thing we want is to send contaminated waste to composting facilities. So, education is very important, and it’s something we take seriously here at Vegware.
- If plastics are easily recycled, shouldn’t I just use plastic packaging?
- The reality is that when it comes to foodservice, conventional plastic can’t be recycled easily. Foodservice packaging made from conventional oil-based plastics – once used and permanently marked with food and drink residue – are a massive recycling challenge. Instead, composting is a local form of recycling, boosting local economies and supplying nutrient-rich compost for use in agriculture, horticulture, and landscaping.
Compostables are the only practical solution for food-contaminated disposables. The more businesses that go compostable, the faster we can achieve this much-needed change.
Interested in learning more about how to compost your used Vegware? Contact our Environmental team to find the best solution for your business. We offer Vegware clients expert support, every step of the way to zero waste. Email email@example.com.