California has a large array of processing facilities for organic materials across the state, including nearly 20 anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities and approximately 50 composting facilities processing food wastes.
At least 20% of the state’s food waste composters are known to accept foodservice packaging materials. As with recycling, there are many variables that determine successful recovery of foodservice packaging in these environments, both in terms of the actual types of packaging as well as a specific facilities’ operating parameters. Factors that will determine compatibility include specific technology, processes used, which feedstocks are accepted, and the ultimate end product being produced. For example, materials may compost differently in windrows than in covered aerated static pile (CASP) systems, and performance will vary with temperature and moisture conditions, cycle time and accompanying composting materials. Many materials that would be considered contaminants in low-solids digesters are frequently accepted in dry, batch-fed anaerobic digesters. These considerations all help determine whether foodservice packaging is a good candidate for this form of recovery.
In terms of which kinds of foodservice packaging may be viable feedstocks for composting or AD facilities, there are a variety of different types of foodservice packaging that are compatible with these end-of-life solutions. For paper products, these typically include bags, cups, boxes, containers, etc. that have either no coating at all, a clay coating or a compostable polymer coating such as PLA. In the same arena, molded fiber and bagasse packaging may be an option. On the plastics side, bags, cups, containers, lids, straws, cutlery, etc. can be made from compostable materials and are excellent candidates for the numerous composting facilities throughout California that operate under suitable conditions and accept compostable bio-based plastic items. Keep in mind, however, that it’s not just the core material type, but also chemical factors such as other ingredients (like inks and adhesives), and physical factors including the thickness of the material that can impact acceptance at composting and AD facilities.
The quantity of foodservice packaging available for recovery in a composting or AD facility is difficult to determine, since use of these materials vary widely across large and small foodservice operations and acceptance by composters and AD facilities also varies. However, since 2016, Assembly Bill (AB) 1826 has required businesses that generate a specified amount of organic waste per week to arrange for recycling services for that waste, and foodservice items including compostable foodservice packaging are an essential component to helping businesses successfully achieve that diversion.
What is not so tricky is recognizing the mounting interest in diverting food scraps away from landfills and sending them instead to composting or AD facilities. Increasingly, communities and organizations (including foodservice operations) are implementing organics collection programs in an effort to achieve zero waste and meet sustainability goals. At the same time – and for similar reasons – use of compostable foodservice packaging is growing. For composters and AD facility operators interested in potentially adding these materials, this raises questions. We’ve compiled a list of useful resources and frequently asked questions below.
Active Composting Facilities in California
Click here to view a list of active composting facilities in California, maintained by CalRecycle.
Study of North American Composting Facilities
FPI conducted a study of North American composting outlets for both residential and business generators of source separated organics. The purpose of the study was to identify composters accepting food scraps and to understand which facilities are willing and able to accept various compostable packaging materials. Read more here.
Check out resources related to the impacts to the composting value chain when introducing compostable foodservice packaging. Read more here.
Managing Compostable Foodservice Packaging Webinar
Watch a webinar on "Managing Compostable Foodservice Packaging," which included speakers from FPI, the Biodegradable Products Institute, National Restaurant Association, and U.S. Composting Council.
Composting Facilities FAQ
Click here to view answers to frequently asked questions about composting facilities.
Anaerobic Digestion Facilites FAQ
Click here to view answers to frequently asked questions about anaerobic digestion facilities.