Compostable Products Value

Compostable Products Were Created to Help Keep Food out of Landfill

While single-use foodservice ware and packaging is a convenient and cost-effective tool for food safety, transportation, and consumption, it generally ends up in landfills. Because food residues are often inseparable from the packaging it came in, recycling these items are not effective and can become a source of contamination in the recycling stream.

However, compostable products can become a vehicle for minimizing food waste by segregating it into the organics (composting) stream. This can benefit composters by improving the quantity and quality of their compost feedstocks from generators.

Food Waste in Landfills is a Climate Change Issue

According to the most recent EPA Municipal Solid Waste data, Americans send more food to landfills than any other material, nearly 25% of total waste. When that food breaks down in landfills it creates methane, which is more than 80 times worse as a short-term greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Mixed (comingled) trash combines recyclables, organics, and packaging, so none of them can be made into new products to meet circular economy goals.

If foodservice ware and packaging are certified compostable, and are collected in a single-source organics program, then the greenhouse gas impacts of sending the food scrap to landfill would be mitigated.

This is why it is important to support the infrastructure developments needed to create a national organics diversion system that includes food waste and certified compostable packaging. Additionally, the finished compost that is the result of this organics diversion system has its own environmental benefits above and beyond the mitigation of landfill methane. Compost helps reduce soil erosion, assists in stormwater management, promotes healthier plant growth, improves soil health, and assists in wetland reclamation.

Certifications:

Third-party verification is a helpful tool for determining whether a product has the benefits it claims to have. Third-party certification and approval programs are particularly useful for single-use compostable packaging claim verification, as pressure from consumers, regulators, and others has created expectations for product categories to meet specific compostability standards.

There are important differences between standards, certifications, and labeling programs. Generally, standards are what certifications verify to, including performance, material, and technical attributes. Certifications help consumers and other audiences trust that products meet those standards. Labeling programs may or may not be tied to independent standards or recognized certifications, and are becoming included in legislation.

Standards

ASTM Compostability Standards

ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems and services. There are currently three different ASTM standards for compostable products and materials – D6400, D6868, and D8410.

There are four key requirements that drive the ASTM compostability standards:

  • Disintegration – This is the physical or “visual” fragmentation of the product, and is the metric used in field testing programs like the one run by the Compost Manufacturers Alliance (CMA). Items must achieve 90% disintegration in 12 weeks or 84 days. This is a pass / fail test, meaning that items may achieve 90% disintegration well ahead of the 12 week / 84 day time period. Only a look at a specific item’s test results will reveal the exact time it took for a product to disintegrate.
  • Biodegradation – This is to establish that the product is not only visually disintegrating, but also that it is mineralizing at the molecular level thanks to microbes that consume carbon and covert it into biomass. Items must achieve 90% biodegradation in 180 days. This is a pass / fail test, meaning that items may achieve 90% biodegradation well ahead of the 180 day time period. Only a look at a specific item’s test results will reveal the exact time it took for a product to disintegrate.
  • Heavy Metals – The product may not introduce significant levels of 11 different specified heavy metals.
  • Plant Toxicity – The final compost may not contain residuals or byproducts that have harmful effects demonstrated through plant toxicity testing on at least two plant types.

Certifications & Approvals

BPI Certification – The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is the leading authority on compostable products and packaging in North America and has been certifying materials and finished goods since 1999. All products and materials certified by BPI meet ASTM standards for compostability, as well as the following three elements not required by ASTM:

  • Eligibility Requirements – Only items that are associated with desirable feedstocks like food scraps and yard trimming are eligible for BPI Certification. This helps keep the total volume of packaging in organics streams lower, which gives composters accepting compostable products a better chance at managing contamination from non-compostable products.
  • Fluorinated Chemicals (PFAS) – BPI’s standard for fluorinated chemicals went into effect on January 1, 2020. Products may no longer be claimed as BPI-Certified unless they meet all conditions of the rule, including no intentionally added fluorinated chemicals, a test report showing less than 100 ppm total organic fluorine, and a technical review of the formulation.
  • Labeling Requirements – No organization has done more work on compostable product labeling than BPI. Part of that work entails reviewing every piece of product and packaging artwork to make sure the BPI Certification Mark is present, and to help guide other labeling decisions. For a complete list of our BPI-Certified products, please click here.

CMA Approval

The Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA) is a for profit entity that offers field disintegration testing in several prominent processing methods (Windrow, Covered In-Vessel, and Modified Aerated Static Pile).

Despite the absence of an ASTM standard or test method for field disintegration testing, it has become an important data point for composters, particularly as processing technologies and time-frame requirements have evolved. CMA’s allowable disintegration time frames vary by technology – 90 days for Windrow, 60 days for Modified ASP, and 46 days for Covered In-Vessel.

The ASTM compostability standards require 12 weeks or 84 days for disintegration, so the notion that there is a significant gap between allowable field and lab disintegration time frames has never been grounded in fact. More likely, the 12 week / 84 day disintegration time frame is being confused with the 180 day biodegradation time frame. Biodegradation testing is a critical piece of the verification process, and can only be done in a lab.

Field testing confirms through documentation that conditions in real world composting environments are dynamic and variable. That variability is more difficult to account for in lab tests that hold things like heat and moisture constant. The challenge, however, is to generate test results in these variable, “real world” environments that composters, manufacturers, and others can rely on. That’s one reason why an ASTM or other third-party standard for field testing is so critical. To view lists of our CMA-Approved products by technology, please use the following links: CMA-H, CMA-I, CMA-W, CMA-S, CMA-MSAP

Compostable Field Testing Program

The US Composting Council’s Compost Research and Education Foundation operates the Compostable Field Testing Program (CFTP), which is an effort begun in 2016 to bring field testing to composters across North America and beyond. The CFTP provides a standard test kit and a customizable protocol for the common ‘mesh bag method’.

When participating facilities share back their results, this data is collected by the CFTP, aggregated and anonymized for eventual public release in an online database. This will provide comprehensive baseline data correlating composting conditions with the disintegration of common compostable products and packaging, allowing CREF, the public, composting industry, compostable products industry and academics to develop tools for composters wanting to understand best practices for processing these feedstocks.

Materials:
Sugarcane

Sugarcane is a renewable, plant-based resource that is grown primarily for cane juice extraction. Once the juice is extracted, the remaining sugarcane fiber, known as bagasse, is commonly incinerated or discarded. By using bagasse as a material input for our molded fiber products, we are helping to promote the reclamation of this versatile, renewable resource.

Bamboo
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world and is considered a rapidly renewable resource with many climate benefits. Many bamboo species sequester more carbon than their tree counterparts and reintroduce more oxygen to the atmosphere. Bamboo can be composted at the end of its life.

PLA (Polylactic Acid)
PLA is derived from plants like corn, sugarcane or cassava. These plant-based starches are processed into a biopolymer that looks, acts, and performs like a traditional petroleum-based plastic. Circular benefits include being made from annually renewable, plant-based materials and being compostable in commercial composting facilities.

PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoate)
PHA is a naturally occurring biopolymer produced by bacterial fermentation of sugar or lipids. Since these polyhydroxyalkanoate are produced by micro-organisms, it is more accurate to refer to their production as biosynthesis. Since PHA is made from plants, it is an attractive energy and food source to the bacteria that participate in decomposition. This allows PHA versatility in its breakdown location, whether that be a commercial compost facility or backyard composting.

PBAT (Polybutylene adipate terephthalate)
PBAT is a versatile material that is derived from petroleum, but can be combined with bio-based materials to create blended copolymers that are compostable at end of life.

Wood
We use birch wood for wooden cutlery and stir sticks. Wood is a plant-based renewable resource that is compostable at end of life.

Virgin Paperboard
Paper is a plant-based, renewable resource produced from trees. It is compostable at end of life, and occasionally recyclable depending on food residue and acceptance in local programs.

Post-Consumer Recycled Fiber (PCF)
Post-Consumer Recycled Fiber (PCF) is paper that has been used, recycled, and repurposed for use in new items.

Links and Resources:
USCC Compostable Products Primer
Compostable Chicago Study on use of CPs to generate clean organic waste stream
https://www.recyclefsp.org/compostable-chicago-form

 

 

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