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Compostable vs Recyclable Packaging: Which is better?

Compostable vs Recyclable Packaging: Which is better?


Today most businesses are looking to adopt new eco-friendly practices, procedures, and products. The harsh reality of it is that most “eco-friendly” packaging has now become a green marketing ploy that creates unrealistic expectations. Often using wording like compostable or recyclable. We’re here to finally unveil the truth behind which is better compostable or recyclable packaging.


Compostable Packaging:

Compostable means some organic material that is biodegradable and decomposes by way of bacteria or living organisms, with the purpose of becoming nutrient-rich soil.
In its most basic form, it’s the circle of life and nothing is more natural than that. Trees are converted into paperboard and then later that paperboard packaging decomposes into soil. The soil then helps to grow new trees, and the cycle continues. One of the biggest benefits is that it diverts materials that would have otherwise gone into a landfill. NRDC mentions that cities like San Francisco, California are leading the charge on city-wide composting programs and were able to achieve a statewide goal of 50% landfill diversion in 2002. There are 4 key factors to successfully composting:

  1. Oxygen
  2. Temperature
  3. Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio
  4. Moisture

With the proper procedures in place composting is a superstar when it comes to packaging and can result in zero waste.


Recyclable Packaging:

Recycling is the process of converting waste into materials that can be reused.
Recycling makes sure that waste doesn’t go into landfills or incinerators. This way new trees don’t have to be cut down to provide new virgin materials and don’t pollute the air. People are more likely to recycle paperboard packaging. The US Environment Protection Agency reported in 2018 the United States generated 292.4 million tons of trash, 23% of that was Paperboard, thankfully most of this waste is recycled. Paper and paperboard account for over 65% of recycled waste. Packaging using paperboards like ReMagine offers the same great print quality but is produced with post-consumer recycled fiber and can be recycled again 4 to 5 times. It’s clear that recycling is important but what makes it successful is the R’s:

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

With these 3 factors, we are able to reduce the need for new resources, reuse old resources, create a circular economy, and drastically reduce our carbon footprint.


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The Winner:

Recyclable packaging is the most eco-friendly form of custom packaging. Both compostable and recyclable packaging have their pros and cons but it all comes down to accessibility and successful execution.

If a customer receives the custom box and doesn’t have access to the proper facility to recycle or compost the packaging it’ll end up in the landfill. In most cities, people have easy access to recycling programs and in some, it’s even the law. On the other hand, many cities lack the infrastructure to support a successful composting program or don’t have one at all. Unless your customer is part of the select few that have their own compost pile or lives in a city that actively tend to their compost facilities, offering biodegradable packaging is counterproductive. The complex process of composting makes compost facilities look more and more like landfills because of inadequate aeration and temperature control. Compost piles need oxygen for the microbes and larger creatures inside them can thrive. These necessary microbes and other creatures help break the materials down into soil. If we just continue to pile more waste onto compost piles we reduce the oxygen levels in the center of the pile. So all these microbes suffocate in the compost piles. 


As packaging experts, we receive quite a few clients that are looking for a domestic eco-friendly packaging solution that has previously been working with a manufacturer overseas to produce their packaging. To our horror, we occasionally find deceptive non-eco-friendly packaging. We are doing our part to educate our clients on the common misconceptions of eco-friendly packaging. We offer recyclable and other sustainable alternatives. Ordering custom packaging can also reduce waste through perfect sizing and per-sheet optimization. Cardboard alone only takes 75% of the energy needed to make new cardboard. If you stick to directly printed paperboard packaging it’s more eco-friendly and even safe for custom food packaging


One day compost will be viable, but we will continue recommending recyclable packaging until then.


To learn more check out our Top 5 Actions toward Environmentally Friendly Packaging.

About Yebo: 

The Yebo Group is an all-in-one packaging and printing solution. Whether you're a startup or a big corporation, Yebo amplifies the impact of your product by providing the most advanced custom printing and packaging options in the industry.

As a trusted packaging manufacturer located in Orange County, we work with some of the biggest brands. Continuously solving our customer's packaging needs while challenging the packaging industry standards.

Our goal is to inspire consumer packaging solutions for the world. Yebo has made this a hallmark of our success by partnering with our clients and growing with them. Simply put, we’re not just a vendor but a qualified extension of your team. We believe that good packaging delivers products, but great packaging creates inspirational brands.

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