Council clears up compost confusion

18 June 2019

Following recent media stories around what’s compostable and what’s not, Wellington City Council wanted to get the facts straight and clear up any confusion.

Image of coffee cups piling up in rubbish bin

Council’s Waste Operations Manager Emily Taylor-Hall explains why the changes have been made to what will soon be accepted by Capital Compost – and what will go to Southern Landfill.

“We have for a long time been pursuing a BioGro organic certification for our Capital Compost. Now that we have achieved this and to meet continuing certification criteria we can no longer accept compostable bags and compostable coffee cups,” says Ms Taylor-Hall.

Currently the compost industry is largely unregulated in New Zealand, and key players are turning to BioGro to gain credibility and acceptability of product. This is important nationally if Wellington City Council is going to apply diverted waste products to our land in order to grow food.

“However, we continue to accept a number of compostable products including unlined paper and cardboard; potato starch; pine, sugarcane or bagasse, soft-thin bamboo materials and cutlery, and vegetable wax coated paper,” says Ms Taylor-Hall. 

Councillor Iona Pannett, Portfolio Leader for Waste says “while corn starch and PLA (Polylactic acid or polylactide) compostable bags and compostable take away cups are very convenient, inclusion with other organic material will prevent certification and diminish the value of the product we are trying to make. We need to find alternatives such as more regular cleaning of bins and keep cups. 

“Like phasing out of single-use plastic bags, this will take some getting used to, but it will be worth the effort.   

“There are already some good alternatives to single use cups, some of which Wellington City Council support via funding from our Waste Minimisation seed funding like Again Again reusable cup initiative,” says Cr Pannett.

The volume of coffee cups and bin liners coming into the Capital Compost operation is currently minimal, although still not allowed under the BioGro certification.

“We expect that the number of businesses that this will impact will be small, and knowing that there are alternatives to single use items, we would hope that they would be able to adjust over time,” she adds.

Ms Taylor-Hall continues: “We understand that at least one of the collection service providers is willing to separate out the liners from the rest of the organic waste, but we recommend businesses contact their service provider for more details.”

“Regardless of whether packaging is compostable or not, it is still a ‘use once and throw away’ product,” continues Cr Pannett. “Businesses should look at this as an opportunity to find new solutions that aren’t single use. Looking ahead, those that can, will gain a competitive advantage over those that persist with single use items. Consumers are more environmentally aware or interested in waste than ever before – the support for phasing out single use plastic bags supports this. We see this more and more with the amount of ‘keep cup’ coffee cups being used across the streets of Wellington, and we would expect to see demand for single use coffee cups reduce over time because of this.

“There are no easy outs with ‘compostable’ cups or liners, and we must resist easy options that don’t actually make a difference. Convenience is part of the issue as to why we generate so much waste in the first place,” says Cr Pannett. 

“Wellington City Council fully supports home compostable packaging, as this can be managed by consumers in their home composts, providing the packaging complies with NZ home composting standards. To make it work, it’s recommended to have no more than 10% of volume of compostable packaging,” adds Cr Pannett.

Home compostable products are not able to be composted at Capital Compost if they contain PLA or corn starch like coffee cups or corn starch bin liners.