Please see below for some of the more commonly asked questions, if you need more information please call or email us.

Technical Questions

  • Is degradation different to biodegradation?
    Yes. Everything degrades (or decomposes) over time, but some things take longer than others. This depends on the base material and the conditions in which the thing is decaying in (temperature, humidity, air and time). A general rule of thumb is that if something is a natural product it breaks down naturally (mother nature at work), whereas a man-made product can take forever to decompose (think about concrete when you think about petroleum-based plastics). Natural degradation is a better option. Biodegradation means that the molecules (that form the material) are created and bound in such a way that natural "living" micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi and algae) will consume and breakdown the molecules. This releases the bonding of the molecules and thereby speed up the degradation. There are chemical and physical degradation processes taking place, both accelerated due to the involvement of living organisms (hence the term biodegradation).
  • Do PLA products need to be stored carefully away from heat?
    Yes, it's important to keep PLA products out of intense sunlight areas of warehouses (in or out of the packaging cartons). PLA has a relatively low glass transition temperature (typically between 44 and 63 °C). This is the temperature at which the molecular bonding starts to “relax” – don’t panic… it’s not melting, just relaxing. If the temperature increases it will move to a melting phase. PLA’s melt temperature is between 157 - 170 °C. This varies dependent on the thickness of the material and if it is bonded on cardboard (like coffee cups).

    Note that CPLA is used to make our coffee lids and cutlery (CPLA is a harder and more brittle version of PLA). This has a higher melt temperature of 200 °C.

    The most at risk PLA products are clear cups, clear lids and straws as these are thin walled PLA products. These are designed for serving cold drinks and are safe for use (all have SGS food certs).
    However, they are at most risk if stored in high temperature environments. Even things like a hot car in the summer could cause parts to soften and deform.
  • What are the characteristics of PLA (Polylactic Acid)?
    PLA is classified as a “thermoplastic”. Thermoplastic materials become liquid at their melting point (150-160 degrees Celsius in the case of PLA) which allows them to be easily injection molded (lids/cups/cutlery) or sprayed (container lining). In its solid form, PLA is not toxic. As PLA is biodegradable, it is often used in food handling and medical implants that biodegrade within the body over time. Using PLA eliminates the need to use non-renewable and unsustainable petroleum resources. Like most plastics, during the manufacturing process it has the potential to be toxic if inhaled and/or absorbed into the skin or eyes as a vapor or liquid. PLA is fairly unsuitable for very high temperature applications (such as reheating in a microwave). It has been approved for use in manufacture of disposable products as the temperatures of any hot drinks or food have to be safe for humans, to avoid scalding.
  • Will Green Choice products be turned into compost?
    This depends on the composting environment. All Green Choice products containing PLA comply with EN 13432 (09-2000) standards and AVI/OK 1 testing for "OK COMPOST" confirmation. So if the Local Council Authority manages the collection of organic waste and deposits it in an approved Commercial Composting Facility, then yes they will be converted into compost. At this stage, New Zealand currently has far more landfills than composting facilities. More pressure on Local Authorities and Central Government is needed to establish a policy to address this imbalance. Our products are safe to be deposited in home-based composting systems but it is unlikely they will convert to compost as quickly as they would in a commercial system. How long it takes to convert into compost will be determined by the system's ability to create an effective environment (temperature, humidity, air movement and bacteria activity). To better understand the NZ requirements for composting facilities, please refer to the Compost NZ Consent Guide produced by the Waste Management Institute of New Zealand.

  • Why are compostable materials also classed as biodegradable?
    Compostable products are made of organic matter, so they contain natural molecules that will naturally biodegrade. This is because bacterial microbes are attracted to natural molecules as a food source. When they do consume these molecules, the residue is still natural matter and therefore less damaging to our environment. A compostable material is naturally biodegradable and the residue does not harm the ecosystem (plant matter returning to the soils as plant matter). PLA (Polylactic Acid) is made from corn starch or sugar cane (biomass products), and these natural molecules will biodegrade.
  • How long will it take for Green Choice products to breakdown and become compost?
    This depends on the composting environment. Thinner and softer products, like coffee cups and card containers will break down faster than denser and stiffer products, like cutlery, clear cups and coffee cup lids. Our products have passed EN 13432 standards and achieved OK to Compost verification. Under the required breakdown conditions, an approved commercial composting facility, at least 90% of the card and soft PLA lined materials will disintegrate within 3 months and 90% of the denser materials will biodegrade within 6 months (after which 100% biodegradation occurs). The resulting compost will not be adversely affected by any additional materials (such as food dyes or paper etc.) and safe plant germination is assured.
  • Can Green Choice products be placed in home composting systems?
    Yes, but we do not recommend this. Products that contain PLA are not designed to compost in home systems. While they will not create any toxicity problems, it is unlikely that a home system will generate enough heat and air movement to break the products down into compost. Thinner and softer products, like coffee cups and card containers will break down faster than denser and stiffer products, like cutlery, clear cups and coffee cup lids. Any products that do not contain PLA (like our cardboard containers, wooden cutlery, paper cups and paper straws) can be home-composted, and we would recommend you break these into smaller pieces first to aid decomposition.
  • Do compostables create methane if sent to a landfill?
    This depends on the landfill conditions. Effective landfill management requires the waste to be stored as solids or else the landfill will collapse, so the correct sealing of landfills is key to this. Keeping moisture, air and microbes out of a landfill is a challenge. If air is present, and the temperatures and moisture levels are right, natural waste in a landfill is likely to be consumed by microbes, and this includes PLA. As part of this natural consumption process, methane will be produced and this will increase if more air is added. This is normal, it is the decomposition process at work. The rate at which this happens depends on the conditions within the landfill and how well conditions are controlled. The number and activity levels of these microbes are affected by these conditions. Scientific tests have concluded that extremely low levels of methane are generated during the digestion of PLA molecules. Methane gas is being captured by some landfills as an energy source. Methane released to the atmosphere adds to the natural generation of methane, as we need methane in our atmosphere to form clouds and produce water. However, an excess of methane is not good as this raises global temperatures. The majority of this excess in NZ comes from increased agricultural farming.
  • How is PLA (Polylactic Acid) made and why is it known as a bioplastic?
    PLA is an abbreviation of Polylactic Acid. It is different than most thermoplastic polymers in that it is derived from renewable plant-based resources like corn starch or sugar cane. CPLA is Crystalised PLA, and has simply been made to be more rigid so that PLA can be used for more purposes (like a coffee cup lid). Petroleum-based plastics, by contrast, are derived from the distillation and polymerization of nonrenewable mineral oil reserves. Polylactic Acid is biodegradable and has characteristics similar to polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE). It can be produced from existing manufacturing equipment (those designed and originally used for petrochemical industry plastics). This makes it relatively cost-efficient to produce. Accordingly, PLA has the second largest production volume of any bioplastic (the most common typically cited as thermoplastic starch). Plastics that are derived from organic matter (e.g. PLA) are known as “bioplastics.”
  • Do compostable products actually decompose, even in a landfill?
    How quickly they decompose and how much is decomposed depends on the composting environment. If our products are buried in an approved Landfill, which is the most likely scenario given that NZ only has 11 Commercial Composting Facilities currently operating, it is impossible to state how long it would take our products to decompose and eventually become converted into compost (if they would at all). There is no way of knowing in advance what sort of composting conditions may exist in a landfill. If our products are buried close to other organic matter, and microbes exist in the right conditions, then they could biodegrade faster as the microbes are attracted to natural materials. If our products are buried alongside fossil-fuel based plastics it would take much longer as the microbes are not attracted to unnatural materials.

    If the landfilled products do not convert into compost (which is essentially a fertiliser we want to use “above” the ground), they simply decompose into organic matter that will not harm our ecosystem (unlike fossil-fuel based products).

    Our products are plant-based (organic matter), so it may help to consider what happens to an apple when left to decompose. Left indoors with no control (changes to temperature, humidity, air movement and the likely existence of bacteria), the apple may only stay edible for up to a week. It will start to rot and will eventually decompose, especially if temperatures increase. Left outdoors with no control (exposure to the elements, bacteria and animals), the apple may not last a couple of days. It will decompose and likely be completely eaten till nothing is left. If the apple is binned and sent to a landfill, the apple will eventually decompose into food matter. It may not become suitable as compost because the right temperature, humidity, air movement and bacteria conditions may not exist. Nevertheless, it remains as decomposed food matter and will not harm our ecosystem. This is what happens to Green Choice products in a landfill. If the apple was placed in a controlled composting bin (higher controlled temperature, higher controlled humidity, higher controlled air movement and high levels of bacteria), then the apple will decompose and convert into compost (the residue has transformed into a material that is suitable for adding to the soil and plant nourishment). This is what happens to Green Choice products in a commercial composting facility.
  • Are Green Choice products food safe?
    Yes, our products can be trusted, they have earned the required levels of food safety certification. All products have passed SGS EU 10/2011 and EN 1186-1/9/14:2002 food safety testing methodology (tolerance to high temperatures and fatty substances, and absence of heavy metals). PLA is fairly unsuitable for very high temperature applications. It has been approved for use in manufacture of disposable products as the temperatures of any hot drinks or food have to be safe for humans in order to avoid scalding. We would not recommend placing hot liquids in clear PLA cups, as these are designed for cold drinks, and we would not recommend using any PLA-lined Green Choice products in a microwave as the high temperatures may separate the PLA lining. All our products are free of petroleum-based plastics and all inks are food-dyes.
  • If petroleum-based plastics are classed as biodegradable, is this a good idea?
    No. Petroleum-based plastics should not be classed as Bioplastic. If a petroleum-based plastic molecule is modified to biodegrade then this adds environmental problems. The material breaks down faster, but the separated molecules are still petroleum-based plastics and they are now much smaller. The smaller these molecules become the more harmful they become. This is because they can now be more easily ingested by animals and humans. Adding to this problem is the fact that petroleum is not renewable, there are far more important uses for this valuable resource. Recycling these types of plastics makes sense, but making them biodegradable is a bad idea.
  • Why do PLA products have recycling symbols 7 and 00?
    We class all "other" plastics as class 7. This class includes a number of petroleum-based plastics that are not considered mainstream, and they are bundled into this one recycling class. The problem with placing PLA in this mix is that PLA is not petroleum-based and recyclers do not want it bundled. Yet PLA is still seen as an "other" plastic so it is classed as 7. Using 00 is essentially stating that PLA is not petroleum-based so a separate class should be used. In some parts of the world PLA is used for making many different products that will not be contaminated with food waste(3D printers for example use PLA). In these instances, PLA can be, and sometimes is, recycled and not turned into compost.
  • How was PLA discovered?
    Dr. Patrick Gruber is credited with inventing a commercially viable process for producing polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable plastic made from corn. He is named co-inventor on 48 United States patents related to the production of PLA. He and his wife Sally, also a chemist, first created plastic from corn kernels by brewing a batch of PLA on their kitchen stove without using any additives or solvents. PLA was first identified in the 1920's, when Wallace Carothers, the inventor of nylon, worked on it at DuPont. Chemical giants had spent decades trying to find a renewable and environmentally safe raw material to make into plastic. Until Gruber’s discovery in 1989, no one had discovered out how to make PLA from plant starches with the right properties and inexpensively enough for large scale production.
  • Do Green Choice products contain any polymer/modifiers, such as PBAT?
    All Green Choice products containing PLA comply with EN 13432 (09-2000) standards and AVI/OK 1 testing for "OK COMPOST" confirmation.

    Our PLA clear cups, PLA straws, PLA paper cups and PLA food boxes are 100% PLA, no PBAT modifier is added.

    There is PBAT modifier added for PLA cutlery, Spoon, Fork, Knife to add strength to these specific products.

    A greater mass and density of PLA used to form a product leads to longer composting timeframes and more rigid composting conditions are required.
  • How do you tell the difference between PLA and PP straws?
  • What happens when fossil fuel-based plastic waste degrades to a microbead level?
    This revealing video from earthFIX shows the extent of the damage being caused to our ecosystem by fossil-fuel based microplastic beads:
  • Are recyclable disposable containers recycled or are they disposed in landfills?
    Some are recycled, but most are sent to landfills. This is because used containers are nearly always contaminated with oil and grease from leftover food and drinks. With our busy lifestyles, and our consumption of convenience food and drink, we must all take responsibility for disposing of used packaging correctly. We encourage people to check their local council recycling guidelines, as not all recyclable plastics are recycled in local centres (contamination and costs can be barriers). Everyone must take ownership of waste disposal and we promote the correct recycling of used packaging were possible. It is important that we divert as many recyclable plastics away from landfills as we can. You can view and download the recycling information guide from the Emperor website.

General Questions

  • How do we know Green Choice products are made using sustainable business practice?
    UniPak requires all manufacturers to undertake a rigorous examination of their business practices. Our Green Choice manufacturers have each supplied detailed information based on the UniPak online Supplier Assessment Form and they each meet our required standards. These standards align with current sustainable business practices, such as efficient energy and water use, waste and emissions management, raw material types, production quality controls, packaging types, human resource management, and sustainable practice ethics.

  • Where can I buy Green Choice products in New Zealand?
    Green Choice products are being sold extensively throughout the country. A list of resellers can be found here. Please note that Unipak is the sole importer and distributor of Green Choice products, they do not sell direct to end-users.
  • Where are Commercial Composting Sites located in New Zealand?
    New Zealand currently has the following Commercial Composting Sites, and local waste/recycling/composting collectors are responsible for arranging collection and drop-off services to the sites.

    Auckland/Waikato Region:
    Home Grown Waiheke Trust, Auckland
    Envirowaste Hampton Downs, Mercer, Waikato
    Envirofert, Tuakau, Waikato

    Central NI (coast to coast):
    Revital/Remediation (NZ), Cambridge, Waipa
    Revital/Remediation (NZ), Mt Maunganui, Tauranga City
    Revital/Remediation (NZ), Uruti, New Plymouth
    BioRich, Hastings

    Lower NI:
    KaiCycle/WorkerBe Oasis, Wellington City
    Capital Compost/Southern Landfill, Wellington City (facility does not process PLA or PLA lined materials)

    Upper SI:
    Motueka Community Gardens, Tasman
    Innovative Waste Kaikoura, Kaikoura

    Reference: The Packaging Forum Composting Facilities Report 2017

  • Why are disposable products so popular in so many businesses?
    Disposable products refers to things that are designed for one-off use and can be discarded after use. Disposable food and drinks containers, cutlery and serviettes are basically the same things you would need at a seated restaurant, except the consumption is done remotely and there is no return of these items for washing and storing. With the busy lifestyles experienced by most it is unlikely the demand for disposables will ever decline. Hygiene and cleanliness is less of a worry as there are fewer concerns about collecting, washing or cleaning reusable items.
  • Why has Unipak created the Green Choice range of disposables?
    We want you to feel you made the right choice for your business, your customers and for New Zealand. We want you to be assured you have made the right purchasing decision: our products are reliable, they offer great value and they will meet your needs. Importantly, we want to help you reduce the environmental damage caused by disposable products once used. We are striving to use the most recyclable plastics in our petroleum-based products, and our guidelines explain how we are helping to increase the likelihood of used products being recycled. Now, through our plant-based Green Choice range, you have a selection of compostable options to choose from.
  • How can Green Choice™ help create a coordinated brand identity in food service businesses?
    Our coordinated design is evident in our product range, this provides an opportunity to create a coordinated identity for food service presentation. Combine our branded products with matching apparel (we will supply our logos for you to overprint your t-shirts) and get a great fresh brand image for your operations.

    Green Choice Brand
  • Why are there so many cups types supplied under the Drinkware range?
    Unipak has been supplying disposable cups since 2004 and know that cafes have different preferences for wall thicknesses, textures and sizes. Single wall cups are very common, however they can transfer heat quicker so insulating sleeves are a good idea. Double wall cups help reduce the transfer of heat, and ripple styles do this and also add texture to help grip the cups. You can view the Green Choice drinkware range here.
  • What types of products do you supply under the Containers range?
    There are many different food types found in disposable packaging. Portion sizes, temperatures, moisture content, fat content and separation of food types all have to be considered. Green Choice has selected the most popular container types used in New Zealand, and we will be adding to the range over time. You can view the Green Choice containers range here.
  • Why is Unipak also selling disposable products under the Emperor brand?
    Consumers have differing demands for disposable product types, mainly driven by cost and convenience. Consequently biodegradable and eco-friendly plant-based products are not always an option and petroleum-based products are still required. These products are sold under the Emperor brand, and we have specically selected plastics that are more likely to be recycled (and supplied recycling guidlelines to assist). Our customers, and their consumers, signalled the need for eco-friendly options as part of our product portfolio. The range of Green Choice compostable products supplied by Unipak will be expanded as our customers adjust to the new range.
  • How do I become a reseller of the Green Choice range?
    We constantly seek opportunities to increase and enhance our product range, and to build the distribution of our products through enhanced customer services and business efficiencies via our industry-specific resellers. You can apply to distribute our products here.
  • Who do I contact in NZ for more information?
    Your local reseller is best placed to help, especially if you need to purchase a product on the same day. If you are unable to get the help you need from your local reseller, you can contact the Green Choice importer and distributor: Unipak.
  • What is the meaning of the Green Choice logo?
    The G and C are combined to form a common shape, we chose green and blue to reflect the earth and our environment. We believe Kiwis want to choose green products whenever they can, hence the words "Green Choice". The brand name and the logo design are both trademarked, they cannot be reproduced without our permission.