Blog: Home composting of Lovechock foil by Jop Timmers
Jop Timmers checks the compostability of the cellulose based packaging foil used in Lovechock in his own backyard...
Introduction home-composting, Lovechock and Jop
Lovechock makes chocolate, very tasty and very responsibly- grown, processed, and now also packaged. The foil that’s being used in the new packaging is a foil based on cellulose and, according to the manufacturer, home compostable. This means the foil will disintegrate in your ordinary compost heap, or compost bin and the valuable materials, which are used in the foil will break down to fertile compost which you can use to fertilise the garden.
I help businesses to actually be more sustainable in their products, packaging and/or services. I’ve been asked by Lovechock to verify the claim of the foil manufacturer and what claim can be written on the package. To see if this claim is valid (because a claim won’t always be) I made a test setup in my own compost bin for 20 foils. I will periodically take out a foil to see what state it is in. My compost bin is situated in a backyard in Amsterdam with not too much sunlight, so a good test-case. If it works out here, it will work out everywhere.
You can buy a compost-bin at most garden centres. There are plenty of websites (for example this one) that give you detailed descriptions for making compost and here already some rules of thumb. Make sure you have the right mixture of carbonaceous and nitrogenous material. Brown waste is carbonaceous, such as dry leaves, small cuttings small, but also sawdust (untreated, real wood), and (unprinted) cardboard.
Green waste is nitrogenous, such as fruit and vegetables (if this attracts mice or rats, you better use less), green leaves from the garden, grass (not too much in one go), soil (even thought it is brown!), teabags, horse and chicken manure. Dry eggshells are good as well, because they’re made of chalk.
No meat, fat, oil, dairy, boiled food (boiled vegetables included), diapers and other stuff that doesn’t compost or stuff that can contain harmful substances.
Make sure enough oxygen can get into the compost by mixing and turning it round once in a while even placing it on soil to allow worms to penetrate. In case you don’t have a garden or just a very small one, there are other options such as a wormery or a bokashi garden bran.
Most of the time a compost bin is no adornment to your garden, that’s why I put tree-stumps and flowers around it, to give it a more friendly look. The big advantage of home composting is the amount of waste you spare (In my case around half a kilo daily) so also less garbage bags, less kilo’s to transport, less exhaust fumes of garbage trucks and in addition more -free- compost for your own garden.
Follow the story of the foil-composting the next weeks!
Day 1, Preparation (Wednesday April the 20th)
20 foils are in my compost heap. The super yummy chocolate in my tummy and as many butterflies. I better stay inside for the next couple of hours, since I will fall in love with the first person passing by, after eating all that Lovechock. Plus 1 PLA foil from Albert Heijn (Dutch Supermarket, their Kiwi packaging) and two cardboard Lovechock wraps. I am curious what will happen to them, although they are not meant for home-composting. The temperature in the heap has risen quite a bit, I felt that when I was holding the foils. I would say roughly about 30 degrees, good for the composting process. I bought a cooks thermometer, one you can use to see if that poor turkey in the oven is done jet. Every foil is attached to a string and every string is attached to a piece of wood. quite a job, but in this way none of the foils can get lost The big wait has started...
Day 5, foil 1 (Sunday April the 24th)
It’s time to get the first foil out of the compost heap. exciting moment. My youngest son wants to join me, I have to use my hands and feet to get all the foils out. Bit of effort, but I manage to get them out properly and take a few shots with my phone. They feel a bit sticky and warm, would that be because of the compost or did the degradation process already start? Then and there I decide not to wait too long until I take the foils out again, I want make sure I don’t miss the process. Will take them out again on Tuesday!
Day 7, foil 2 (Tuesday April the 26th)
It’s nice and warm today, actually so have the past few days. When my hand finds the first string I can feel the heat being released from the compost pile. The process has started. Carefully I pull the string, every day quite a bit of green waste has been added, so I have to pull it out very slowly. Hey, that feels good, the foil is quite warm and clearly feels softer than before. carefully I pull a piece of the foil and it tears easily. that’s promising.
Day 10, foil 3 (Friday April the 29th)
It’s been really warm the past few days. When I pull a foil out of the heap I find the composting process is well on the way. The heap is warm and quite moist. The foil is as well. It feels as if it’s lost some of firmness, it’s become much softer. However, I can’t visibly see if the foil has become thinner. I don’t dare to pull too much, afraid it will tear apart immediately. When, after photographing, I put the foil in a little plastic bag to archive the foil it, straight away I see condensation forming in the bag..
Day 19, foil 4 (Sunday May the 8th)
Just back from a little holiday. Straight back to my experiment. When I open my compost bin lid the heat greets me, along with some tiny flies. It’s been brewing nicely in there. I choose one of the strings and pull. A little resistance and then I’m holding on the string. Could it really have gone that quick? Did everything break down in only one week? I can’t believe it!
I try another. Same story. But, wait a minute, I have a feeling the string itself has composted. With a scoop in my hand I easily get the next foil out of the heap. There are lots of ants on it and also some grubs. The foil is still intact, but has considerably changed in colour and feels even softer. Now I’d better exchange all the strings for a little metal or plastic wire.
Day 25, foil 5 (saturday may the 14th)
It doesn’t matter what string I pull, they all break. There’s nothing else to do except, get a trowel and very carefully dig my way to the remaining foils in the compost heap. I’m constantly surprised that this steaming heap barely stinks. I come across a complete ant colony. Luckily I find almost all the foils, of which some are already pretty decomposed. Three of them of them I really can’t find anymore, so after a while being bent down, digging busily I give up, scared to disturb the process too much. I also find the PLA foil from the Albert Heijn kiwis. Seems nothing much has happened to it, it’s still crisp and crinkly as before... (Lovechocks cardboard wrapper is also still in tackt, but soggy)
With some effort I wrap an metal-plastic coated wire all the foils, these these won’t compost for sure. Everything goes carefully back into the heap, and I scoop compost over it all. I keep one piece of foil separately to photograph, when I unfold it there’s a hole in it. The next foils will be taken out in a few days, as it’s going really quickly now and I don’t want to miss anything
Day 32, foil 6 (Saturday May the 21st)
One moth has passed since I put the foil in the compost heap. I check the bin. The new construction with plastic coated metal wire works well, everything remains in place. Suddenly I see something shiny, it is a piece of foil that’s sticking out of the compost heap. Apparently I didn’t see it before or it only appeared now due to the shrinking compost heap. I to use this one to photograph, happy that I found another one. The foil is very dirty, the compost sticks more firmly that it did before. In order to take a photograph I very carefully rinse off the compost with some water. When I pat the foil dry with some tissues I notice the material is becoming very fragile.
Day 36, foil 7 (Wednesday May the 25th)
I pull on a metal wire and a beautiful chunk of compost with a foil inside appears. There’s quite some compost around the foil as I wrapped the metal wire very loose. But that’s a good thing because, when I untangle it the foil divides into three pieces! In my enthusiasm I forget to take a photo of me taking this out. Really silly, as this feels like a breakthrough
Very carefully I remove the remaining compost. I have to find another way to take the photos now, because I can’t hang up the foil as I’ve done in the past.
Instead I lay it flat and take a picture from above. It’s also a bit more shiny, so it’s not the best picture I have taken until now.
Day 46, foil 8 (Saturday June the 4th)
Yesterday we had a party at home. Already 10 days have passed since I last took a foil out of the compost. I hope there is still something to be found... feeling guilty I take my trowel and walk into the backyard. Or actually I take 10 steps and I am at the back of the garden, that’s more the reality. I’m sure there’s something to be found. I pick a sticky piece of foil out of the compost heap. There are all sorts of little creatures on it. It’s a good thing that I’m not afraid of insects, as this is a great sample. They quickly scurry away, so I can finally take a picture without the little beasts. For sure they do their job. The foil shows this. It seems to have eroded on the sides. I can’t actually clean the foil properly anymore, that would cause to much damage and that’s not what I want.
Day 49, foil 9 (Tuesday June the 7th)
This time I don’t wait too long, after three more days I take the next foil out of the compost heap. That’s to say, I take a chunk of compost out with hopefully a piece of foil inside. Again lots of bugs and also some ants. Carefully I take off some compost and notice immediately that the foil isn’t one piece anymore. I continue to take off the dirty mass. I feel a bit like an archaeologist, though one with dirty hands. Now I can clearly distinguish two main pieces and two smaller pieces of foil. It is hard to get all the compost off the foil, so very carefully I use some water. That’s better. The foil has fallen into several pieces, in both length and breath, which makes it difficult to tell precisely the reason for it. Due to the difficultly I have to remove the remaining compost from the foil I can only conclude that the cellulose (wood-pulp, from which the foil is made) is now really decomposing.
Day 55, foil 10 (June the 13th)
The ants have taken the opportunity to change my nice and warm compost bin into a real ant kingdom. I can’t blame them, of course they don’t want to miss the yummy foils of Lovechock. Well, it’s not a bad thing to have ants in your compost heap, but when I try to find the next foil I find ant’s egg’s all over the place and a whole ant army that starts to panic. Apparently the pile has gotten a bit too dry because of the weather. I decide to add some water (ants don’t like damp in their nest) and not bother them further. The foil I managed to get out seems a bit squeezed together, when I try to unfold it a bit, it is tears immediately, so I decided not to continue. Am curious whether or not the ants will be chased away due to the dampness.
maar niet voort. Ben benieuwd of de mieren zich laten verjagen door de nattigheid.
Day 59, foil 11 (June the 17th)
Still lots of ants in the heap. I do think the temperature has decrease a little, although I there is no thermometer in it (would actually be a good idea to have a high-tech variant, I myself do love little gadgets myself, and for sure I am not the only one) so I can’t prove it. The mass is still quite wet, so I persist for a while to see if the ant’s will leave. To my surprise I manage to get quite a clean foil out of the compost. It’s clearly visible that holes have formed in the foil, there’s also a piece missing I search for it for a while, but then I give up.
Day 65, foil 12 (June the 23th)
Lots of flies are swarm towards me when I open the compost bin. I find the compost very wet and when I touch it for sure the temperature has decreased. This isn’t good for the composting process as it will probably slow it down. The ants though, seem to have gone. I do however, have to do something about the composition of the compost. The brown/green balance seem to have gone too much to the green side lately. Alongside wetting the compost, to leave the ants less enthusiastic, I lately (unconsciously) put too much fruit and vegetable waste (green, nitrogenous) in the compost and too little carbonaceous material (brown: scattered branches, dry leaves, straw). It could also help to add some old paper, like used tissues, paper towels, or even cut up old newspaper. You shouldn’t do this too often because of the ink that’s used, but to restore the balance, like now, it won’t do any harm. By-the-way also ink remains are also in non-printed grey recycled cardboard. The beautiful paper wrap of Lovechock is also allowed in the compost heap, but normally it’s better to recycle with your paper. The foil is now full of sticky compost, that I manage to get a little cleaner by using a little water so I can take a picture.
Day 71, foil 13 (june the 29th)
Still quite some flies when the lid opens, the smell is quite ok, it actually doesn’t stink at all. Carefully I take the foil out, using a scoop, otherwise everything falls apart and then I’m missing a piece. With care, courage and loyalty I gently wipe the composting mass off the foil. It’s going pretty fast now, the foil has become very thin and it is getting more difficult every time to get the compost off. The compost is still very damp, so I take some fern leaves, the ones that were broken anyway, cut them short and put them on top of the compost. This has to do something to get the heat up.
Day 77, foil 14 (July the 5th)
The compost is a bit warmer now, also the ants are back, cosy between the pieces of fern I put on top of the pile. Nice dry and warm, and they lay countless amounts of eggs there. I decided I prefer ants in the compost much more than a lower temperature too damp compost, so I try not to bother them too much when I search for a next piece of foil. I have to dig deep and finally reach the end of a metal wire. Using a trowel, I manage to get the foil out in one piece, it almost falls apart and as I try to carefully unwind the metal wire that I’ve wrapped around it does actually fall apart. Now it’s so thin that I ask myself whether or not I’ll be able to find anything the coming weeks. I take as much compost off the foil as I can, but then I just have to stop, otherwise I’ll only be left with pieces I realize nothing of the foil would have been found if I had put it in the compost bin just like that (instead of carefully putting in its’ place and left it for 77 days) and afterwards had turned over the compost. It would have surely broken into small pieces and would have integrated into the compost. Take a few photo’s, these will be almost the last.
Day 84, foil 15 (July the 12th)
It is getting harder every day, but I do manage to get the foil out. There is not much left, just a little lump actually. It’s more compost than foil, so I decide to wash it very carefully. In the sink, in just a very little amount of water, the compost slowly releases itself from the remains of the foil, that looks a lot better. When the foil is floating in the water you can see how thin it has become. Carefully I pat it dry with some toilet paper. When photographing I place an original foil next to it. Wow, what a difference!!! I’m guessing there’s only one third of the material left, if you compare the surface.
The density too has decreased, that it’s maybe a sixth or maybe less of what it was.... I wish I had a microscope. I Tweet and ask for help. reactions straightaway, maybe the next images can be taken with a microscope...
Day 93, foil 16 (July the 21st)
Wow this foil is hidden deep inside the compost. With a lot of effort I manage to dig it out, it’s became a sticky ball, small, so there can’t be a lot of foil left. The remenants of the carton wrapper from Lovechock that I also included hangs on another wire. Also almost gone, it’s a wet mass that disintegrates in my hands.
This is also home compostable, but more suitable for paper-recycling. I also decide now to take out the Albert Heijn foil, made from PLA (polylactic acid, bioplastic, usually based on cornstarch). Like I expected, this foil is still completely intact. Although PLA is made from renewable, natural material and is biodegradable, it needs a lot of time and a higher temperature. A compost accelerator could quicken this process.
The logo, which can still clearly be seen on the package is meant to indicate the material is suitable for industrial composting. Unfortunately in practise, within the industrial composting-facilities, the throughput is so fast that they can’t wait for PLA to de-compost, which is mainly then sorted out and then still ends up being burned. In principle this is still preferred over burning petroleum based plastic. But the best solution for PLA at this moment would be to recycle it, as it can easily be done.
Back to the Lovechock foil based on cellulose. As I slowly soak the compost in a bowl of water, there really isn’t anything more left than a few very thin slivers of the foil. With a pair or tweezers I very carefully take it out of the water and place it on a tissue. Then let it dry and again carefully I pick it up from the tissue. It really is wafer-thin there is so little left from the original foil.... if the foil would de-compost even more, then there wouldn’t be anything left to photograph or to describe. Now a picture taken under the microscope and then I’m going to stop. That’s it.