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Food scraps generated from home cooking

The Economics of Compostable Bags: Are They Worth the Investment?

In a world increasingly concerned about environmental sustainability, the spotlight is turning towards everyday items like plastic bags. In Australia, where eco-consciousness is on the rise, the debate over the economic viability of compostable bags versus traditional plastic bags is gaining traction. Are compostable bags truly worth the investment, or are they just another green gimmick? Let's look into the economics of compostable bags in the Australian context to find out.

Environmental Urgency in Australia

Before we consider economics, let's address the elephant in the room: environmental impact. Traditional plastic bags pose a significant threat to ecosystems, marine life, and overall environmental health.

Australia generates millions of tons of plastic waste annually, much of which ends up in landfills or polluting marine environments. According to the Australia Institute, just 14% of plastic waste is kept out of landfill (despite government policies aimed at creating a circular economy). If we're not great at recycling, and there's not high enough demand for recycled plastic, then surely there's a strong argument for a single-use plastic alternative like compostable?

It's estimated that Australians produce over 150kg plastic waste per person. Our consumption has increased 60% — from an estimated 92kg per person in 2000, to 148kg per person in 2020–21 (see Australia Institute, Plastic waste in Australia
and the Recycling Greenwash). This significant increase in consumption is driving a plastic waste crisis.

Benefits of Compostable Bags

Compostable bags offer an alternative for carting food scraps and organic waste.

Made with plant-based bio-resins derived from the likes of cornstarch or sugarcane, these bags are designed to break down, leaving behind no toxic residues. When filled with appropriate matter and disposed of in a home or commercial compost, they decompose into nutrient-rich compost, enriching the soil and closing the loop in the circular economy.

  • Environmental Friendliness: Compostable bags reduce reliance on finite fossil fuels and mitigate pollution, contributing to a healthier planet.
  • Biodegradability: Unlike traditional plastic bags that persist for centuries, compostable bags decompose within months, minimising their environmental impact.
  • Soil Enrichment: When compostable bags break down, they release valuable nutrients into the soil, enhancing soil fertility and promoting plant growth.
  • Waste Reduction: By diverting organic waste from landfills into composting facilities, compostable bags help reduce overall waste volume and methane emissions.
  • Regulatory Compliance: With increasing regulations aimed at reducing single-use plastics, businesses and individuals opting for compostable bags ensure compliance with environmental standards.

Bench top collection of food scraps

The Economics of Compostable Bags

While compostable bags may have a slightly higher upfront cost compared to traditional plastic bags, their long-term benefits justify the initial investment.

  • Cost Considerations: The cost of compostable bags varies depending on factors such as size, thickness, and quantity. However, economies of scale and advancements in manufacturing processes are driving cost of goods down, making compostable bags more competitive.
  • Waste Management Savings: Municipalities incur significant expenses in managing waste, including collection, transportation, and landfill maintenance. By promoting at-home composting, local governments can reduce costs over time.
  • Brand Reputation: Businesses embracing sustainable practices enjoy enhanced brand reputation and consumer loyalty. Providing a compost waste stream demonstrates corporate responsibility and resonates with environmentally conscious employees and consumers.
  • Market Demand: As consumer awareness grows, so does the demand for eco-friendly alternatives. Businesses that fail to adapt risk losing market share to competitors offering sustainable solutions.

Home compost

Conclusion: A Greener Future

The economics of compostable bags in Australia favour sustainability. While green alternatives may carry a slightly higher price tag than traditional plastic, the long-term benefits in terms of environmental conservation, cost savings, and brand reputation make composting a worthy investment.

As individuals and businesses alike embrace eco-friendly alternatives, the demand for more sustainable packaging will continue to soar. And as commercial and municipal organic collections become more widespread it's only going to get easier to tap into a composting waste stream if you don't have the facilities to compost at home.

By making easy switches today, we can pave the way for a greener future for generations to come. Make a conscious choice. Choose compostable bags for a cleaner, healthier Australia.

Next article Saving more plastic from entering the sea!