Packaging End-of-Life

Organic Recycling of Food Service Packaging Waste

Unlocking the possibilities of recycling of food service packaging waste

The conveniences offered by single-use packaging for the food service sector, e.g. quick service, casual dining and fast casual restaurants, have been prevalent over the years and the use of such packaging has been increasing with the rising cost of labour and the increase rate of table turnovers. This has consequently led to the increase in use of single-use packaging for the food service sector.

When the single-use packaging is disposed, the waste, which may be made up of pulp, fibre, plastics and metal materials, therefrom is often mixed with post-consumption food waste, i.e. mixed waste. The mixed waste, i.e. packaging waste and food waste, are commonly disposed through incineration or landfill. Efforts to recycle has been difficult due to the need to segregate the waste into each material types, along with the hassle and resources involved.

With the use of fully biodegradable materials for packaging, as opposed to partial or non-biodegradable materials, both packaging waste and food waste can be put through biological valorisation processes such as enzymatic hydrolysis, fermentation, anaerobic digestion, or industrial composting to avoid the need to segregate the mixed waste.

While the waste from biodegradable packaging can be biodegraded through biological valorisation processes, they often require a long amount of time to do so. Hence, it may not be cost effective and practical compared to current industry practices. For example, some biodegradable packaging can take up to 6 months to biodegrade in industrial composting sites, which typically process food waste within 2 months. With industrial anaerobic digestion, these biodegradable packaging waste may take more than 120 days to break down, as opposed to 20-30 days with food waste. This makes it impractical to biodegrade biodegradable packaging together with food waste. Therefore, the likelihood of disposing such mixed waste through incineration or landfill is higher than biodegrading it through biological valorisation means.

Therefore, there should be a way of reducing the amount of time to break down the biodegradable packaging waste to match the time taken to break down organic waste so that it is more practical and attractive to biodegrade the biodegradable packaging waste together with food waste without segregation.


Tan et al. (2021) Single Use Plastic in Food Service Industry

Single-Use Plastics in the Food Services Industry: Can It Be Sustainable?

Lifecycle Analysis Organic Recycling vs. Incineration for Post-consumption Waste

A modeled comparison of carbon emission (GWP) of Organic Recycling via Anaerobic Digestion vs. Incineration of mixed post-consumption waste (Packaging Waste + Food Waste)

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