Thursday, July 28th, 2016
Companies today are focused on creating products that are sustainable, meaning they are made with materials that minimize the impact on our environment. You may have some familiarity with biodegradable products, which are one solution to companies’ need to create environmentally-conscious products. When marketing sustainable attributes to consumers, the Federal Trade Commission has said that these claims must not be confusing, and should be supported. To aid our members and other companies, SPI recently released a Guidance Document: Industrial Compostability Claims Checklist to help evaluate your product’s or packaging’s industrial compostability claims.
There’s some confusion out there when it comes to understanding biodegradability. Let’s clear things up a bit by first explaining what it means for materials to be biodegradable.p evaluate your product’s or packaging’s industrial compostability claims.
Biodegradable means that something will be consumed completely with the assistance of microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi.
- When a biodegradable plastic (bioplastics) is disposed, it will be broken down into biomass, carbon dioxide, and water, if in an oxygen-rich environment, or methane, if in an oxygen-poor environment.
- There are different methods to make biodegrade materials, such as:
- Marine degradation (degrades in the ocean),
- Soil degradation (degrades in the soil), or
- Home/industrial composting.
Now, let’s break down composting.
Composting can be coined “home” or “industrial” composting.
Home composting differs from industrial composting in three major ways:
- Scale: Industrial composting is done by the truckload, and compost windrows (long rows of piled compost) can weigh thousands of pounds. In contrast, home composters may have a small pile or barrel
- Management: Industrial composting is much more actively managed.
- Temperature: In industrial composting, the compost mound is very hot due to the composted materials being shredded, turned frequently and handled with more rigor than in home composting, which is done in much cooler temperatures.
Industrial composting is very common throughout Europe. The United States has fewer opportunities to divert food/yard waste and compostable bioplastics to industrial composters. To see if there is a composter in your area, go to FindAComposter.com. Each composter’s process is different, and some only accept yard waste, or only food service waste; others do not accept bioplastics. Be sure to check before composting!
Like all plastics, bioplastics need to be properly disposed of when they’ve reached the end of their usefulness, in a way that maximizes their value, whether that’s through recycling, home composting or industrial composting.