Red, Amber & Green for compostable materials - Readability Ltd

Red, Amber, Green chart for compostable materials

Published by Sam Edney on 20th June 2023 | General
UK Packaging Preferred Materials & Formats Guidelines 2023
Compostable packaging is being used more frequently every day.

In ongoing efforts to reduce waste and protect the environment, compostable packaging has emerged as a promising and widely accepted solution. Compostable materials have the potential to break down naturally, returning valuable nutrients to the soil and reducing plastic waste. However, when it comes to accurately categorising compostable packaging, the Red Amber Green (RAG) recycling list falls short.

What are the main issues?

Hard to categorise:

Compostable packaging is special because it is different. It is this difference that makes it impossible and almost unfair to categorise compostable packaging alongside other “recyclable” materials. Due to a lack of industrial composting facilities into the UK, this materials is considered difficult. The infrastructure required for industrial composting is not widely accessible and without access to proper composting facilities, compostable packaging may end up in landfills, where it can take longer than expected to decompose. However, its total decomposition time is still markedly shorter than that of other packaging materials.

Limited Education and Awareness:

The RAG recycling list has the potential to shape consumer behaviour. However, the current system lacks adequate education and awareness campaigns to inform customers about compostable packaging. Many people remain unaware of the specific requirements for composting these materials and may mistakenly dispose of them in general waste or recycling bins. This further undermines the ineffectiveness of the RAG recycling list and hinders the proper recycling of compostable packaging.

Environmental Impacts:

The inaccuracies of the RAG recycling list have significant environmental consequences. Improper disposal and recycling of compostable packaging can lead to increased landfill. It also hampers the potential benefits of compostable materials, such as nutrient-rich compost for agriculture, as they are unable to fulfil their intended purpose when not managed correctly.


While the Red Amber Green recycling list serves as a valuable tool for waste management, it falls short in accurately categorising compostable packaging. The lack of distinction between compostable and biodegradable materials, varying composting facilities, lack of standardisation, limited education and environmental impacts all contribute to the difficulty of classifying this material. To address these issues, there is a need for improved labelling, expanded composting infrastructure and comprehensive awareness campaigns to educate consumers on the proper disposal of compostable packaging. By taking these steps, we can promote more accurate recycling practices and maximise the environmental benefits of compostable materials.


About the Author: Sam Edney

Sam is our Sales Director, working with customers to find the best packaging solutions for their products, brand and target audience. With a passion for new materials and technology, all while keeping a firm focus on sustainability .

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