Compostable: An Important Definition
Although terms like: biodegradation, biodegradable, and compostable are becoming more common, they are often used incorrectly, and are often misunderstood. Almost everything is biodegradable with enough time (which may be thousands of years), but this is not the same with the term ‘compostable’. Although you will see products claiming to be 75% compostable or highly compostable or similar, this in practice, means they are not compostable. In these products, the percentage that cannot be composted will contaminate the entire composting process. For a product to be compostable, it must be fully or wholly compostable. Fortunately there is a standard that can help us to understand if a product is wholly compostable.
The European EN 13432 standard defines the characteristics a material must have for it to be ‘compostable’. In other words, that the product can be recycled using this special form of treatment. A definition of the criteria for composting is important because materials that cannot be composted (traditional plastics, glass, materials containing heavy metals etc) will have a negative impact on the final quality of the compost and make it unusable. This standard is a reference point for manufacturers, public authorities, composting operations and consumers. Australia has a similar standard AS 4736-2006. This provides a definition for biodegradable plastics suitable for composting and other microbial treatment. New Zealand is in the process of creating a similar standard.
According to EN 13432 the following conditions apply for materials to be compostable
|Biodegradation: i.e. the metabolic conversion of the material to carbon dioxide|
|Disintegration: i.e. breaking up and disappearing into the final compost (absence of visible contamination)|
|The material shall not have any deleterious impact on the composting process|
|Low occurrences of heavy metals (under specified maximum levels) and the absence of deleterious impacts on the final compost|
Each of these points is necessary for defining whether a material is compostable, but one point alone is not sufficient for claiming that the product is compostable.
Little & Brave nappies are suitable inputs for composting under the European and Australian standards and make a positive contribution to the final compost. The compostable outer cover and inner fluff pulp provide organic matter while the SAP provides water storing granules, which can improve soil structure and moisture levels. Soiled nappies also contribute a host of nutrients to the final compost, including nitrogen, which helps plants to grow.
Why should we commercially compost?
Commercial composting provides the optimum conditions for naturally occurring micro-organisms to convert organic waste materials into rich organic soil additives. This recovers valuable nutrients which aid plant growth when applied to soils.
Compost enhances soil structure, contains moisture conservation properties, reduces the development of soil borne diseases in plants, reduces our dependence on pesticide and synthetic fertilizer usage and also reduces a community’s demand for landfill capacity.
Organic waste in landfills results in the emission of green house gases into the atmosphere. By composting organic waste, which would have otherwise gone to landfill, it is converted into a saleable product and at the same time reduces the amount of green house gases emitted.
Commercial Composting runs at very high temperatures for a specified number of days which kills off any potential pathogens and bacteria that may be found in soiled disposables, making this method of disposable far more hygienic than dumping in landfill.
How long will it take for Little & Brave Eco Nappies to compost in a commercial composting facility?
Our nappies will compost at the same rate as other organic matter i.e. in one compost cycle at commercial compost facilities.
Anecdotally, back in early 2018, one of our compost testers found that the Little & Brave Eco Nappies that they had tested in their Home Composting box had virtually disappeared within five days. Take that as you will, but it shows that Little & Brave Eco Nappies biodegrade at a rapid rate.
They do not contain any oil-based plastic, no chlorine, no bleach, no heavy metals, no pthalates and no potentially irritating perfume. They are made from sustainably-sourced FSC-certified wood or bamboo fluff pulp, which means they did not come from protected forests.
An important note about SAP
The commercial composting process takes a wide range of organic inputs which no longer have a useful function and converts them into safe, nutrient-rich soil conditioners which no longer resemble the inputs they started out as.
Whilst the SAP (super absorbing polymer) component in our nappies is not compostable, it is usable in soil, and it is in fact desirable that it maintains its amazing water storing properties. The commercial composting process allows this input to be ‘reused’ in a beneficial way rather than wasted in landfill. Bio-based SAPs have not yet been developed to a suitable level to be useful in nappies and they also would not retain their water storing properties following commercial composting.
In the circular economy hierarchy, it is preferable to ‘reuse’ where possible and our process is allowing this.
SAPs, which act as a water storing granule, have been used extensively in potting mixes and agriculture for many decades and its benefits in this environment have been widely demonstrated.
Can you compost conventional nappies?
Polyethylene and polypropylene are non-compostable plastics. All other disposable nappies are made using these plastic materials. This means that they are not suitable for composting. Conventional disposables will contaminate the final compost with visible bits of plastic and make it unusable. Please do not send conventional nappies to a commercial composting facility.
The oil-based plastic in conventional and partly-compostable nappies that go into landfill today will be there could potentially be there for decades, centuries or even millennia from now.
Not the legacy we want to leave our future generations.
Why is composting Little & Brave products currently limited?
Commercial composting in New Zealand is an emerging industry. As such, both policy and practice are yet to catch up to the new and exciting compostable materials, such as PLA, which are becoming more readily available in New Zealand.
We are in discussions with councils and commercial compostors, local Councils, and the Government, about our national commercial composting infrastucture, with the aim of gaining access for our products to more facilities around New Zealand and expanding this valuable service to more families.
As far as Commercial Composting is concerned, the only composting facility that accepts Little & Brave Eco Nappies is Eco Circle in Penrose, our own in-house commercial composting facility.
HOME COMPOSTING – we now have a process that will allow all Little & Brave customers to effectively Home Compost all of their Wee Nappies. That is Little & Brave Eco Nappies that their Little (Baby) has Wee-eed in. For all the information you need following this link
What standard do you use to compost the nappies?
Our dedicated facility, Eco Circle Commercial Composting, is proud to voluntarily comply with New Zealand Standard (NZS4454: 2005) Composts, Soil Conditioners and Mulches, for processing Little & Brave products.
Regular and independent testing of the resulting outputs is undertaken using IANZ accredited, Hill Laboratories.
How much time will it take for Little & Brave nappies to degrade in landfill?
Our long-term goal is that all of our nappies will be diverted from landfill. This will be in the form of Commercially Composting them or Home Composting all Wee Nappies. For more information of the Little & Brave Home Composting Initiative, follow this link.
We do understand that this will not always be possible or practical for our customers.
If our nappies do end up in landfill like all other disposable nappies, we are confident that they are much less likely to cause harm than our conventional or partly-compostable competitors. Little & Brave Eco Nappies have no oil-based plastic, no chlorine, no bleach, no heavy metals, no pthalates and no potentially irritating perfume.
How long anything takes to degrade in landfill will be subject to the conditions of that specific landfill. What we can say, is we are certain they will completely biodegrade faster than any conventional nappy, which will leave an oil-based plastic remain for (possibly) millennia to come.
Creating a Circular Economy
Conventional Disposables in a Linear Economy
Little & Brave Eco Nappies create a Circular Economy