Is Our Foil Safe For Soil?

A recent study by Foilco, the B Corp-certified manufacturer and supplier of stamping foils, proves that the foils they produce can be composted. And not only composted but can, in fact, improve the germination rate of some seeds. So, what do we mean by composting, and who deems a material compostable?

Composting is the biological degradation process of solid organic materials under controlled conditions to obtain a stable material that can be used as organic fertiliser. Put simply; compostable materials give nutrients back to the earth after they break down – they feed the soil.

The EU sets out its standard of compostability in the EN 13432 guidelines. In these guidelines, there are several criteria covering disintegration and biodegradability. These criteria define how quickly and to what extent a biodegradable material must degrade under industrial composting conditions.

Composting plays a crucial role in helping local authorities and businesses to achieve targets to increase recovery rates and divert waste from landfill.

The test

As the first foil company in the world to join the Zero Foil 2 Landfill Scheme, Foilco has been leading the industry in establishing the sustainability credentials of foil. With this composting test conducted by Intertek, Foilco has demonstrated that the stamping foils used in the test are fully compostable.

Intertek tested two of Foilco’s most popular stamping foils – a pigment and metallic foil. Both were printed onto coated 300g board.

As per the EN 13432 guidelines, the test looks at four key characteristics of the test material:
1. Biodegradability
2. Disintegration during biological treatment
3. The effect on the biological treatment process
4. The effect on the quality of the resulting compost

Explains Rose Happer, Foilco’s Brand Environment & Sustainability Officer, “To pass this rigorous test, after 12 weeks, no more than 10% of the original dry weight of the test substance (in this case our foil samples) can remain after it is passed through a 2mm sieve. 90 % of the organic carbon from the test substance must be converted to carbon dioxide within 180 days. Plus, the germination rate and the plant biomass of the resulting sample composts should be no less than 90%.

“While it’s a thorough and lengthy testing process, it was our hope that the results would get us ever closer to our mission to establish the end-to-end environmental credentials of foil as a decorative finish.”

The results

At the end of the test, the degree of disintegration of the Foilco samples after 12 weeks was 99.2%. That meant that only 0.8% of the test sample remained, far less than the maximum 10%. After 135 days, 92.61% of the organic carbon in the foil samples had converted to carbon dioxide. Again, well within the target and timeframe of no less than 90% within 180 days.

Finally, the toxicity test on the compost sample containing the pigment and metallic stamping foils showed no adverse effect on the seedling emergence or growth. In fact, the root and shoot growth rates of some of the seedlings tested were slightly more than in the control sample.

From lab to real life

Test results in the lab are essential in proving that stamping foils are compostable. But the proof is the pudding – or rather, the flower bed.

To bring this study into real life, the team at Foilco are now doing their own composting on-site at their North West facility. Explains Rose, “We’re composting our Fanfold shade cards and promotional artworks that are damaged beyond use or obsolete and will be using it to help fertilise the flowers in our memorial garden. It not only helps with our own waste management, but it demonstrates to our customers, and the industry at large, that our stamped foils can be composted.”

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