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Let's just be clear - we believe that in an ideal world all takeaway items would be served in reusables. But the reality is that in our fast-paced society, single-use is still very much a go-to.

We will aways advocate for an AVOID-REDUCE-SWITCH model, in that order.

Ask yourself how you can avoid or reuse items, before switching to a disposable alternatives (see linked guides at the end for help on this).

When you do need single-use items, the aim should be to have as little environmental impact as possible. Unfortunately, the process of finding these products that also suit your needs can be tiresome and downright confusing.

Australia’s packaging industry is largely unregulated. The result is that many manufacturers design products that simply look and sound environmentally friendly, yet carry no such characteristics (this is known as 'greenwashing').

So how do you find what you need? Here are our top 10 tips to help you.

1. Look out for compost certifications

Products can be certified compostable, which means it is proven to break down in a specific timeframe under specific conditions.

If a product claims compostability, it should be backed up with a certification. In Australia, the industry standards are the Australian Standard for Home Composting (AS 5810) or the Australian Standard for Commercial Composting (AS 4736).

Foreign certifications are available as well, though not preferred. Ask your supplier if the product you're ordering is certified compostable, and look out for these symbols when choosing your packaging.

Australian Standards are the two symbols on the left. The rest are foreign standards.

2. Check if the certification provided is for the finished product

Many manufacturers will use base materials that are certified compostable, and then add in additional processes or elements to create a finished product. They will then use the certification for the base material and claim it covers the entire product.

When ordering, check with your supplier whether certifications are for finished products.

3. Check if there is a home compostable option available instead of commercially compostable

There is a big difference between home compostable and commercially compostable items, namely the specific conditions required for each to be effectively composted.

A home compostable bagasse lid (left) and commercially compostable PLA bioplastic lid (right)

Home compostable items can break down in a backyard compost. Commercially compostable items require collection and transport to a commercial composter to break down. If littered, home compostable items pose less threat to the environment.

It is better to choose home compostable items where you can.

4. Don't be fooled by meaningless 'greenwash' terms

If used without any proof or composting standards, the following words can be a sign of greenwashing: 'enviro, eco, earth friendly, green, biodegradable, degradable, climate friendly, plant based, natural'.

5. Be wary of deceptive imagery

Just because a product may have neutral earthy tones or be presented with leaves or bamboo does not mean it is an environmentally sound choice. Ignore these elements of greenwashing and stick to certified compostable products.

To learn more on avoiding greenwashing, see our related post on greenwashing (below).

6. Be aware of made up certification symbols

All of these symbols mean nothing! Look out for an actual composting standard.

7. Check your items comply with state bans

Legislation banning certain single-use plastic items are in place in most states.

Each state’s ban will have notable differences, and it is worth checking the ban in your state to educate yourself.

Noteworthy aspects for many bans are whether items are certified compostable to Australian Standards, are ‘oxo-biodegradable’ or contain bioplastics.

When ordering, check details with your supplier and ensure you are complying with bans in your state.

8. When ordering, be clear about the products you want

Even reputable brands still stock plastic items - so be clear with your supplier that you want to order the certified compostable version of a specific product.

It's also a good idea to write down the codes for items you have selected.

Don't assume you'll get matching lids either - too often we see businesses ordering compostable containers or coffee cups, believing they will receive matching compostable lids. This is not always the case and are often sent standard plastic lids instead.

9. Check every product you receive, and look out for plastic identification codes

If you have ordered a compostable bioplastic item, you will find the code #7 PLA on it.

Plastic Identification codes. Code #7 includes compostable bioplastics. Against common perception, these are strictly an identifier of the type of plastic and does not address recycled content or recyclability of an item.

However, most manufacturers also make products with other plastics in them which will carry a different symbol. Be on the look out for #1 PET, #5 PP and #6 PS, commonly used plastics in foodware. If you receive any you did not order, send them back.

10. Reach out to us if you’re feeling overwhelmed

If you're one of our Plastic Free Places members (find out if eligible and join here), we will help you identify what you need, as well as ideas for reducing single-use overall. Just reach out!

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