Effective January 1, 2010, residents in the Twin Cities area who bag their yard and organic waste are required to put their waste out for pickup in compostable bags - either paper (kraft) bags or compostable plastic bags. This affects residents in the following counties: Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington. This is not a new requirement for Dakota County; they've been required to use compostable bags for years.
Using paper and compostable plastic bags rather than traditional black plastic bags will greatly reduce the amount of plastic being sent to local composting facilities. Because local composters will have less plastic to screen out of their finished compost, processing costs will be reduced and the quality of the finished compost will be enhanced. Lower processing costs at local composting facilities should reduce the costs for haulers of yard waste, which may lead to lower prices that residents pay for yard waste service.
Compostable plastic bags are distinct from regular plastic bags because they are usually clear or a translucent shade of green or white. Most home improvement, grocery, and hardware stores now carry them. If you don't see them at your local store, ask an employee; many store owners are just learning of this requirement also and may appreciate the customer request.
If you prefer not to purchase these compostable bags, you could also contact your city recycling office or yard waste hauler to ask if there are yard carts available in your area. Other options include using paper kraft bags, dropping off your yard waste at a compost facility and taking your bag home with you, or composting your yard waste on your own property and using the nutrient-rich compost for your garden and lawn.
To read more about the science of compostable bags and to see a listing of some of the Minnesota retailers who carry compostable bags visit the Biodegradable Products Institute's website.
For more information on the compostable plastic bag requirements and how they will affect you, read the frequently asked questions below. If you still have questions or comments, visit with us on our blog at RethinkRecycling.com/blog.
- Who must use compostable bags and when?
- What is a compostable bag?
- How can I tell the difference between a compostable plastic bag and traditional black plastic bag?
- What is the difference between "oxo-biodegradable" and "compostable"?
- Will the compostable bags start to breakdown if it rains or if they are stored for a long period of time?
- Why is using compostable bags important?
- Where can I buy compostable bags?
- When do I have to use compostable bags?
- What are the benefits of using compost?
- What happens if I do not use a compostable bag?
Effective January 1, 2010, residents of Anoka, Carver, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington Counties who bag their yard waste or other compostable waste are required to put their waste out for pick up in compostable bags - either paper bags or compostable plastic bags. Residents of Dakota County who bag their waste are already required to use compostable bags for yard waste pick up.
This requirement does not impact your service if you currently collect your yard waste or other compostable waste in a cart, or you take your yard waste to a collection facility and remove the waste from the bags yourself. Contact your local hauler or yard waste collection facility for specific details. You can also ask your hauler or city if there are yard carts available for resident use, or you can bring your yard waste to a yard waste collection facility yourself and remove the waste from any non-compostable bag. You can also start composting your own yard waste (see question 9 below).
Compostable bags include paper Kraft bags (large brown paper bags) or compostable plastic bags. Compostable plastic bags are usually clear or tinted a translucent shade of green, white, or pink; however the color is not the sure way of determining the compostibility of a plastic bag. Compostable plastic bags should clearly state that they meet ASTM D6400 standards for composting and that they are "compostable". Bags marked "biodegradable" or "degradable" do not meet the state law.
The shelf life of compostable bags is approximately 1 to 3 years. Make sure to review the label for the product specific shelf life and purchase accordingly.
3. How can I tell the difference between a compostable plastic bag and traditional black plastic bag?
Look for the word "compostable" on the box. The words "lawn and leaf" or "yard waste" do not guarantee that the bag is compostable and acceptable to use under the new rule. Visually, compostable plastic bags are usually clear or tinted a translucent shade of green, white, or pink, compared to traditional black plastic bags.
The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), provides an independent certification program for products that meet all requirements of the ASTM D6400 standard, which is the standard required by this new law. BPI uses independent approved labs and reviewers and is not based upon manufacturer's claims. The following logos for certified compostable plastic mean that the bag meets standards required under the law to be considered compostable and are acceptable under this new requirement:
Oxo-biodegradable refers to a material that is made from plastic that, over time, will break down into smaller pieces of plastic but never fully degrade. Compostable materials, on the other hand, are made from plant-based materials and will completely biodegrade in a short period of time in a commercial composting operation. Oxo-biodegradable bags, often labeled "degradable" or "biodegradable" are not permitted under this new law. Only compostable bags are allowed.
5. Will the compostable bags start to breakdown if it rains or if they are stored for a long period of time?
The technology used to make compostable bags has improved greatly. The first compostable bags made years ago did tend to break down when stored too long on a shelf or if they came in contact with any moisture. Today, we have much higher-quality bags that have longer shelf lives and can hold up better to outdoor conditions. You will likely notice a difference in brands, so if you don't like one type that you use, try another and it may work better.
Once your yard waste or source separated compostable waste is picked up, it is delivered to a compost facility. Waste received at composting facilities in regular plastic bags must be debagged, which increases costs and the chance that plastic bags will be blowing around on site causing a safety hazard and litter problem. Some compost sites shred the bag and its contents and attempt to screen the torn pieces of plastics later. Unfortunately not all plastic shreds can be screened out, which reduces the value and quality of the finished compost.
Most home improvement, grocery and hardware stores now carry compostable bags. If you don't see them at your local store, ask an employee. Many store owners are just learning of this requirement and may appreciate the customer request. The Biodegradable Products Institute maintains a listing of some of the Minnesota retailers who carry compostable bags.
Compostable bags tend to cost slightly more than the traditional black plastic bags here in Minnesota; however, given the new demand, prices may decrease over time.
Compostable bags are required for use with curbside yard waste and compost collection (unless you use a cart from your hauler). So any yard waste, food waste, organics, or other compostable material must be placed in a compostable or kraft bag, or in a cart when collected at the curb.
Benefits of using compost include:
• Saving natural resources;
• Reducing soil erosion;
• Preventing polluted storm water runoff from contaminating our wetlands, lakes, and streams; and
• Providing a valuable soil amendment product that can be used to enrich the soils of our community.
You can read more about composting on our yard waste page.
If you do not use a compostable bag, kraft bag or a cart from your hauler for yard waste or other compostable waste, your hauler will not collect your waste. If your yard waste is left at the curb for pick-up in a black plastic bag they will not collect it. Compost drop-off sites will also require the material to be removed from non-compostable bags and you will be required to take the bag with you.