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Compostable food packaging - what you need to know

Did you know? Reducing food waste, either personal or commercial, is one of the best things that you can do for the environment.
If your local council collects general food waste (such as Cambridge and London) and sends this to a commercial composter – then you can rest easy, as that is one of the best ways to compost food and divert food waste from landfill.
Rotting food in landfill creates methane, which is 25 - 28 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide, so it's important to think about what you can and can't compost!   

But what about compostable food packaging? 

This a good question.

Most disposable food packaging (cutlery, cups and food trays) are now free from plastic, following a ban which was introduced in October 2023, and can technically be commercially composted or will biodegrade.

Which is great news, when it comes to reducing single-use plastic. 

But, as above, access to commercial composting depends on where you live and how your food waste is processed. If you can’t put food waste in your garden waste or brown bin, there is likely to be no commercial composting service in your local area.

Or, if you’re enjoying a take-away coffee or bite of street food while you're out, do you have access to public composting bins? In which case, you are best to put all food waste and food packaging in the general waste bin - whether it's compostable or not.

Some food packaging options are now recyclable as well as compostable, however only clean food trays can be recycled. 

Is compostable food packaging good or bad?

These compostable food containers are not recyclable in the same way as plastic but, as they are made from natural materials which can break down into compost again (in the right environment), they are deemed to be better overall and have replaced single-use plastic alternatives.


Not sure which items of food packaging are commercially compostable? Check out these examples that we stock from Zeus food packaging.  

So which symbol means commercially compostable? 

You should be able to add any food packaging with this symbol on into your food waste, if you know this is processed for composting by your local council. 

Once collected, this usually takes about 12 weeks to break down in a commercial composting facility and creates fantastic compost for farmers and/or green energy for the national grid.  
Unfortunately, these products will not break down in a home composter, as they require higher temperatures. That's the main difference between home composting and a commercial composting facility.  

Confused by the different food recycling symbols? 

We agree, it is difficult and frustrating when there are so many different types of food packaging and different rules.
Here is a a quick guide to help you navigate what you can and can't do!

And can I recyle any packaging with food and drink on it? 

Unfortunately, no you can't.

Residue from food and drink on disposable food packaging or food containers, even though the material itself is recyclable, contaminates that material. And in turn, this will contaminate the rest of the mixed recycling, meaning large amounts of recycling will be rejected at the facility because the items you tried to recycle weren't clean.

So, please don't put dirty food packaging in the recycling  - although it may feel like you are doing the right thing!


As a foodservice provider, we are introducing options which are recyclable as well as compostable, so, in this case, the dirty food trays could be put into a bin to be sent to commercial composting, to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill. 

To recap, what do I do if I'm not at home or can't compost food waste in my garden waste?

If you’re out and about, it is harder to compost food packaging full stop at the moment, as there are no public bins for compostable waste.

Feel free to ask your food vendor if they collect and compost their food waste, as some independent coffee vendors and street food trucks will do this, in which case they may have a bin that you can add your compostable food packaging to.  

Otherwise, when it comes to binning your commercially compostable cups, take out boxes and trays – for now – the best thing to do is put these in the general waste bin (please do not put these in a recycling bin as they are not recyclable).   

If you want to do more and your local council is not helping you to compost food waste, you may want to write to them to ask why.

Waste Oil Collection

We work with a partner to help a lot of our customers recycle their used cooking oil in return for cashback on their orders.  

Cardboard Collection

We also offer our customers a free cardboard collection service, to help them process their recycling better.  

Sustainability at Thomas Ridley

Find out more about our mission to be more sustainable 

Reducing food waste 

Find out how we're reducing our food waste