I do like my coffee. I also try my hardest to buy good quality coffee in recyclable packaging, as hard as it is sometimes with the shelves stacked with the foil-lined bags.
So I was surprised recently when I saw an Omnidegradable® logo on the back of a packet of coffee by Django Coffee Co. I couldn’t recall seeing a logo for ‘omnidegradable’ before, so it’s fair to say my interest was piqued.
What is omnidegradable packaging? What does it mean? It sounds rather grandiose doesn’t it? It gives the impression that the packaging is all-decomposing, in any type of environment. And this is basically the goal of the creators.
Could it be true though? Is it as good as it seems? What’s the catch? Let’s take a closer look at Omnidegradable packaging.
What is Omnidegradable®?
Omnidegradable® is the creation of Tekpak Solutions.
Tekpak Solutions are a Canadian company who want to provide consumer materials that don’t impact the environment negatively. Their mission with Omnidegradable is to provide environmentally friendly packaging that’s completely pollutant free.
We all know the problem that discarded plastic causes around the world, so any solution to try and eradicate plastic waste, including microplastics, is a welcome step forward. Most coffee bags are a mixture of plastic and foil materials, meaning they aren’t recyclable and definitely not compostable. Read more here on can coffee bags be recycled.
Omnidegradable is a recyclable and biodegradable type of plastic packaging. Yes it is petroleum-based plastic, but the science behind it means that it is 100% biodegradable and compostable by an industrial facility.
In basic terms, the outer layer of Omnidegradable packaging is paper-based, which gives the bag its nice texture. The inner layers are plastic-based to create the oxygen and moisture barriers required to protect the coffee. This plastic however is combined with an organic additive that makes it more easily biodegradable in the right conditions. Even the valve and ziplock are biodegradable.
Other companies are trying to do similar things with bio-based packaging. I’ve written previously about Voyager Coffee who make their bags from 100% renewable plant material, known as PLA (polyactide).
What does Omnidegradable mean?
Omnidegradable means that the packaging will break down in any environment it’s put into.
Omni – meaning all; off all things; in all ways or places
Degradable – capable of being decomposed chemically or biologically
The benefit with Omnidegradable is that all it requires to decompose is microbes. This differs from other bio-based and environmentally friendly packaging that require a bit more effort and input, such as heat, pressure and moisture.
The simplicity of Tekpak’s degradation is what makes it so exciting on the sustainable packaging front.
Is Omnidegradable compostable?
Tekpak Solutions’ Omnidegradable packaging is ‘compostable in an Industrial Compost Facility using windrows and with no time constraints’.
So, yes Omnidegradable packaging is compostable but only in industrial facilities and not suitable for at home composting. Looks like you might not be able to stick it in your garden compost pile then.
Although a downside, this compostable snag is common for many different types of compostable packaging, including compostable bags.
Tekpak do state that Omnidegradable is biodegradable. To be clear, this is distinct from something labelled compostable.
Compostable means that the organic matter of the material will break down into biomass that will enrich soil environments.
Biodegradable means the material will break down and decompose in the environment. In truth, this term is very flimsy, broad and not accountable to any overarching body. Almost everything will biodegrade eventually. I wrote here about why biodegradable dog poo bags are not what you think.
The use of the term biodegradable contrasts to other terms, such as organic and indeed compostable, that need to pass a strict set of criteria on inspection before the accredited body can permit the use of the term.
Tekpak state that it is unlike any other degradable plastic invented as it decomposes into just three products:
- Carbon dioxide
- Organic biomass
All three of these constituent parts are beneficial for plant growth and survival. On their website, Tekpak claim that other ‘biodegradable’ plastics, such as Oxo-Bio and Cello, either broke down into microplastics and other tiny contaminants or the process of biodegrading started too soon, leaving shop shelves with the packaging contents!
Interestingly, Tekpak do say that if all 8 million tonnes of plastic per year entering oceans and landfills was Omnidegradable, ‘it would most likely be gone within a year or less’. Around a 1000 times faster than what a plastic bag would take.
Independent studies on the packaging over a five year period also find that there were no harmful side effects to the soil, plants or insects once composted, even with doses 50 times higher than normal.
How does Omnidegradable packaging decompose?
All that Tekpak requires to decompose is the presence of microbes – which the earth is not short of! The numbers of microbes are so mind-numbingly big that they can’t really be comprehended. According to researchers at Indian University, the new estimate for microbial species on earth is somewhere between 100 billion and 1 trillion, of which 99.999% are still undiscovered. And that’s just species, not actually the number of individual organisms.
To make the packaging, Tekpak add an organic additive to the engineering process. In the presence of microbes, this organic compound creates an enzyme that breaks down the long-chain molecules of the plastic ‘into pieces small enough for the microbes to consume completely’, which was confirmed to me over email.
The table below compares Tekpak with PLA and OXO Bio (which has been written off as a solution to the plastic problem due to breaking down into microbeads – read more here on ecostandard.org).
How to dispose of Omnidegradable packaging?
Theoretically you can dispose of Omnidegradable packaging anywhere! But let’s be sensible about it before we start to get street fulls of empty coffee bags waiting to be broken down by the environment!
This type of packaging will biodegrade ‘only when exposed to the microbes in landfill, soil or [salt] water.’
For us in the UK, you can put it into any bin really and it will be taken to the waste facilities and eventually it will decompose into water, carbon dioxide and a bit of biomass within a year or two.
As it does break down into biomass, it makes sense to try and keep it with food waste and other green waste that goes to an industrial composting facility. This way it will then have a positive impact and feed back into the compost that will go back into the Earth. Make sure that you add your used coffee grounds and coffee filters to the compost bin too.
Independent lab studies show that it will take at least 20 months for an Omnidegradable film to decompose in an anaerobic landfill. Avoid putting this in landfill if you can help it.
Is Omnidegradable a renewable or petroleum-based product?
Ok, here’s the downside: Omnidegradable packaging is a petroleum-based product.
Although petroleum is a naturally occurring material, like coal and natural gas, it is a fossil fuel.
Tekpak Solutions state that a petroleum base is engineered with the use of a completely organic additive and that Omnidegradable packaging ensures the materials are returned to the Earth in a safe and complete manner. This is almost infinitely better than any single-use plastic that will persist in an environment for potentially hundreds of years.
They add that their packaging ‘offer[s] superior performance to other biodegradable technologies, are easier to use, less expensive, and have the added benefit of being completely recyclable, in single layers. For these reasons we firmly believe it is the most viable solution to the problems with plastic – today.’
Anything petroleum based of course will require extraction from deep rock strata below the surface which undoubtedly means local habitat destruction and pollution. Not good.
Playing devil’s advocate here, even plant-based products that go to make bioplasics require space to grow on land, which requires altering the local habitat too, plus treating in a facility. Take a closer look here on how good bioplastics are for the environment.
Finding a truly perfect solution to packaging is no easy task.
Wrap up on Omnidegradable
It’s a difficult job to strike the balance between coffee quality and sustainable packaging.
For coffee quality to be kept high, oxygen and moisture must be kept out, which is where the liner comes in. As the coffee off-gasses, carbon dioxide must be allowed to escape from the bag without letting oxygen in, which is where the valve comes in.
Is it possible to do both jobs whilst not impacting the environment negatively? You would need a bag made from 100% renewable materials that is 100% compostable. This hasn’t been invented yet.
But things are certainly heading in the right direction and Tekpak’s Omnidegradable packaging is a very good step forward. The European Union’s Committee on Sustainable Plastics called Omnidegradable packaging ‘the only viable solution available today.’
A 100% perfect solution to this type of packaging doesn’t exist yet, so for that reason, Tekpak should be commended for their strides forward.
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Tekpak and haven’t been paid or gifted anything to write this blog. The coffee from Django was purchased independently. All information presented in this blog post aims to be honest and informational only.