In 2017 Koppert Biological Systems launched its first high-tech foil sachets which carry the information that they are ‘industrially compostable’, but what does this really mean?
What is the Ulti-Mite concept?
Ulti-Mite is more than just a ‘foil’. The special foil itself (containing 0% plastic!) is made up of a number of components which together create a perfect breeding environment for our mites. These components give the material the specific characteristics that make up the Ulti-Mite concept; an optimal breeding system for our predatory mites that´s resistant to low and high humidity conditions.
What is the difference between biodegradable, home compostable and industrially compostable?
´Biodegradable´ involves a process during which microorganisms that are available in the environment (e.g. bacteria or fungi) convert materials into natural substances
(water, carbon dioxide and biomass). Everything is biodegradable, however the time frame per material differs, leading to different terminology:
We give it the term ´home compostable´ when the degradation finds place in a natural environment and the timeframe is limited to 12 weeks. For example, an apple on the side of the road or a tomato in the green waste of a greenhouse company.
Not all materials degrade as quickly as an apple or tomato. To keep degradation of these materials in a specific time frame, we lend nature a helping hand and create the perfect artificial setting to degrade all elements of the materials. This is what we call ´industrial composting´. Industrial composting facilities regulate the conditions by using specific temperature, humidity, oxygen levels, etc., so that the time frame of composting is fixed.
It´s very difficult to duplicate equal composting conditions in a greenhouse or on a field as conditions cannot be regulated. When an Ulti-Mite sachet, for example, is left on a dry, bare soil bed, it does not have the right conditions to degrade within the same specific timeframe. As a result the whole process can take up to over a year. This is why Koppert advises (strongly!) that the sachets be collected together with the vegetable, fruit, and garden waste and taken to an industrial composting facility. Industrial composting of Ulti-Mite sachets takes about 12 weeks.
Why not use compostable sachets?
This too was an option that Koppert researched. The sachet quality is not only important for the time that it is being used by our customer in the crop, it also plays a role in the total production process. For example, a material can be suitable as a breeding environment for predatory mites, but it may not be able to be processed during the production of the sachets. Also, as with all packaging, it is useful until the content has been used; from that moment on the packaging turns into “waste”. If a compostable foil disintegrates too fast during the development phase of the predatory mites, the quality of the Ulti-Mite sachet drops below specs and won`t produce the projected number of predatory mites. In sum, it is a complex process for which our current foil material is extremely suitable and an advanced solution. Together with our supplier who is a leader in this field, we will continue to develop the sachets and find means of improving them.