The composting industry is currently being challenged by an influx of new materials labelled "compostable". From cutlery to coffee pods to takeout containers – how do you know which materials can be composted and which ones cannot?
Standards do exist but, an overall lack of standardization in the industry has made it difficult for consumers to wade through the murky waters of compostables.
But First: Some Background On "Compostable Plastics"
One of the most popular compostable standards right now is BPI which verifies conformity to ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868. What does this mean?
Standard Specification for Labeling of End Items that Incorporate Plastics and Polymers as Coatings or Additives with Paper and Other Substrates Designed to be Aerobically Composted in Municipal or Industrial Facilities
Standard Specification for Labeling of Plastics Designed to be Aerobically Composted in Municipal or Industrial Facilities
What’s noteworthy for both standards is that they reference “Municipal or Industrial Facilities”. However, just because a material says its compostable does not necessarily mean it will be accepted through all municipal programs. We recommend checking with your municipality or compost provider for more information about what is accepted, as some programs specifically ban compostable packaging.
This also presents challenges for backyard and electric composters. Due to lack of industry clarity on what can and cannot be composted, most compostable materials end up going to landfill anyways - which sort of defeats the purpose.
A good rule of thumb for consumers:
If the item references being compostable in a commercial or industrial facility, it will NOT break down quickly in a backyard composter.
Here at Food Cycle Science we get the opportunity to test lots of materials in our FoodCyclers! One of the advantages of using the FoodCycler is that testing takes only hours for items to break down, which means we can test a whole host of materials in a short amount of time.
One material we've tested recently: compostable stickers from Elevate Packaging!
Testing Compostable Stickers
For our testing we applied several stickers to materials going through the FoodCycler and then searched the resulting end product for any traces. This is one of the first materials we’ve tested where the material fully broke down and we could not find any traces of it!
Stickers on fruits and vegetables are a major pain point for our FoodCycler users and composters of all sizes. They are challenging and slow to remove before processing. If industry switched to fully compostable stickers it would certainly remove one more barrier to composting – particularly for our Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional clients.
We’d also challenge the Standards organization to create more readily recognizable standards that distinguish products are “home compostable” vs. “industrial facility compostable” as that would allow more materials to be diverted by the many people that are recycling waste on-site with composters and FoodCyclers.
Like the article? Send us your questions about compostable plastics and we’ll test them for you and let you know the result.
Tried any yourself? Let us know in the comments.