Jon Reed of Compostic is doing his bit for the planet with his compostable bags and mailers.
Interview by Carolyn Enting
Good magazine is proud to have collaborated with Jon Reed by mailing out issue 62 of the magazine in Compostic compostable mailers. It’s something we have been working on in the background for many months. We chatted to Reed about his bags and mailers, and why they are making a difference.
Why are compostable products a solution?
The obvious answer is that plastic lasts for 250 to 1000 years which is just not sustainable. End of story. Our products will break down in your back-yard compost in 12 weeks, preventing a huge build up of waste and creating a truly circular economy.
They’re also a fantastic product, they look and act just like plastic, but with an addictive to touch velvet-like feel to them. You get the same convenience but can feel good about it. So, it’s just like a plastic bag or mailer without the plastic. We even use water-based inks for our printing.
The great news is that they’re also customisable; we can cut them into any size, shape, thickness, and print any design on it. We’re always looking improve and expand, which is why we recently released a world first certified compostable reusable bag. It’s not just a solution for bags and mailers either, there are so many other problems created by plastic that we want and are able to solve. The good news is that we’re not too far away from solving them, so keep a look out for new products.
Where are they produced?
They are made in China at the moment. Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to make them here, nor does anyone else that we’re aware of at the moment. One of the things is that we’re trying to do is appeal to the masses and one of the issues is cost and we need to keep cost down as much as possible. Eventually, we would love to bring the manufacturing over to New Zealand.
Compost bags or bin liners? What is the end use for these bags?
One of the reasons why our first product was a singlet bag and not a bin liner, was because we first wanted to give them multiple use – take them to the supermarket, fill them up and use them again. Secondly, was to fill them with food waste and into your compost or a local composting facility. Too much organic waste goes to landfill where it rots over long periods.
Compost is a resource, so we want to help encourage all organic waste away from landfill as much as possible, and our bags are a hygienic way to do that.
So what can people use as their bin liners? What’s better, the plastic bag for the landfill or the Compostic compostable bag?
We still say that as long as those methane gases are being captured – in New Zealand over 70 per cent of these gasses are captured and used to generate electricity at landfills –our bags are a far better option.
How long would it take for a Compostic bag to decompose in landfill?
It will decompose eventually but over a very long period of time. I don’t have any kind of figure on that as it hasn’t been tested for long enough. We expect that it would be five to 20 years depending on the conditions but it’s not going to be anything like 250 years for plastic.
If you line your compost bin with one of these bags and then throw the bag with all the food in it into the home compost, how many days will it take to break down?
It’s certified for 24 weeks. So that is the absolute maximum time period it will take. Our compostic material is strong enough to match plastic and is going to decompose at less than half the rate required for certification so if you put this in your home compost bin it is more than likely to breakdown within 12 weeks as opposed to 24 weeks and in a commercial compost its six weeks but certified for 12.
Your bags end up turning into fertiliser at the end of the day, how?
It turns into water, carbon dioxide and bio mass. That’s used within soil to enhance the quality of the soil and improving growth of new plants, completing the full life circle.
Tell us about your role in the business and why you set up the company?
Honestly, I was relatively ignorant to the whole issue and what was going on, before I got into this. As I read more and more into this issue of plastic waste, I was astounded by how big it was and how it widely it was being ignored. I’ve always been inspired by nature so I quickly became really, really passionate about all things environmental. My goal is to raise awareness of this issue before it’s too late. Consumers need to know that there is an alternative out there that they can use.
When we started the business, the idea was not to go out there and sell compostable bags, it was to find a solution to a problem. We spoke to environmentalists about different alternatives like reusables and paper products and quickly found the best answer was compostable products. As we have travelled further along our journey we’re finding more and more problems that our compostic material can solve. We’re really excited about some of the new products that we will be bringing out in the next 6 months, they’re definitely game changers.
One of the biggest problems with plastic bags is getting blown by the wind into the ocean. If your bag got into the ocean how would it react to a salt water environment?
If our bags are washed into a waterway, again they aren’t going to breakdown at the same rate they would in a composting situation. They are still going to breakdown 100 times faster than a plastic bag. We have also done testing on our products where we have tried to mirror stomach acids and found our products are breaking down within 1-3 weeks, which was faster than when we tested orange peels!
It’s also fair to say there is consumer confusion over what are the best bags to use?
That’s an issue within our industry because how many different types of bags there are. Compostable, biodegradable, oxo degradable or recyclable. This is the big reason we called our business Compostic. We really wanted people to understand compostable. Compostable means going into your compost, biodegradable does not neither does oxo degradable or 100 per cent biodegradable, no. There are no certifications on those products so unless you see a certification that actually means something and unless you see the word compostable, don’t put it in your compost. If you see the word compostable, don’t put it into your recycling. That’s a really important part for us as well, consumer education on what these different things mean.
What are the certifications that your bags have then?
We are verified by Din certco, Vincotte and BPI – three third party certifiers from around the world. Within those certifications there are home compost and commercial compost certifications, so we’re covered for both and within those there are regional certifications as well. You’ve got European standard, American standard, ISO standard and the Australian standard. New Zealand tends to follow the Australian or European standard. The only difference is the Australian standard is tested with worm farms as well.
So, I could put Compostic bags into my worm farm?
Are your bags available to buy at supermarkets?
Not at this stage. We have gone with a different tactic, which we’re allowing for people to purchase them online. We talked to some of the supermarket chains about putting them in their stores initially, that was a long process and during that process we decided we should make them available to the consumer online as soon as possible.
In your opinion, what needs to change next?
Retailers, both big and small, need to react to what consumers are demanding. We were disappointed that the big supermarkets decided to move to thicker plastic when they could make the same bag from compostic material. The same goes for their reusable bags, why make them from plastic when we have a certified compostable alternative? We also want to give them some credit for trying to make a difference and making some improvements but it will take time for them to get it spot on.
But even when that happens, small and medium sized businesses still account for 800 million odd bags, so small stores need to commit to change too. That’s why we have made our bags and mailers available is smaller quantities online so that everyone can make a difference. You may think you’re only small but it all adds up.
And what’s next for Compostic?
Bags and mailers are not the end of the line for us. Plastic is everywhere, and we are not going to limit ourselves to shopping bags and mailers. We have already extended our product line to include one of the world’s only certified compostable reusable bags which has been amazing.
We don’t plan to stop there. We’re finding that there’s almost no limits to what we can make with our compostic material and have some really, really exciting products coming out in the not too distant future that we think people are going to love. We couldn’t be more excited about what is coming for Compostic.