OverviewToday's lifestyles have led to an increased demand for disposable, single-use items. From the daily cup of coffee to takeout containers at restaurants and grocery stores, disposable food service items have become a part of every day life. More disposable items translate to more garbage bags, as item after item is tossed in the trash.
Fortunately, manufacturers are developing innovative products made from renewable resources that can be composted instead of taken to a landfill. Compostable bags, flatware, food packaging, dishes, and cups are becoming more common as an option for the environmental conscious consumer. These items can be placed in an organics collection bin and sent to a compost facility, where it is turned into a useful, environmentally friendly product!
Even if you do not have access to a compost/organics collection program, purchasing compostable products can reduce the demand for products made from petrochemicals, thus reducing the demand for oil.
Laws & Guidelines
Minnesota Statute 115A.02 encourages public entities to reduce the amount and toxicity of waste generated. Compostable products help meet this goal by reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.
ASTM International develops standards for a variety of products. Existing standards pertaining to biodegradable/compostable products include ASTM D6400 Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics and ASTM D6868 Standard Specification for Biodegradable Plastics Used as Coatings on Paper and Other Compostable Substrates. ASTM is currently developing a standard for Single-Use Biodegradable and Biobased Biodegradable Plastic Utensils (ASTM WK4857).
The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) has a labeling program open to all materials and products that meet ASTM D6400 or D6868 based on testing in pre-approved, independent laboratories.
Performance of compostable products has improved dramatically since their initial introduction in the 1990s (BioCycle June 2008). Components of performance vary by product (for example, hot beverage cups will need to withstand high heat, while bags will need to be puncture resistant), so it is important to review the product specifications carefully and to consider relying on existing standards and guidelines to help guide you to a reliable product.
Storage conditions must be considered for ALL compostable products. Products should remain wrapped until ready for use and should be stored in a cool, dry place.
Compostable products are becoming more widely available. The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) maintains a list of certified compostable products.
The cost of compostable products varies by product type. Prices for many compostable product lines have fallen since the 1990s. However, costs of compostable bags have remained relatively high. These higher costs may be offset by an organics diversion program, which can reduce your solid waste fees. The table below provides a cost comparison of compostable products, and their non-compostable counterparts. Keep in mind that prices vary by company and that purchasing in bulk or through cooperative purchasing opportunities may lead to lower pricing.
Consider including the following specifications in your bids for compostable products:
All product lines
- Product must be certified compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI).
- Product must not contain additives that include highly hazardous chemicals, including but not limited to: persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals; very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB) chemicals; carcinogens; mutagens; reproductive toxins.
- Product must not contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), or polyurethane (PU).
- No chlorine or chlorine compounds may have been used in the manufacture of the product.
- Product must not be made from genetically engineered (GE) crops and raised without hazardous chemicals and using other sustainable agricultural practices. Use of GE feedstock must be offset through purchase of non-GE feedstock (i.e. Certified GMO-free, Identity Preserve, GMO-offsets, Working Landscape certificates).
Wood/cellulose based products
- Feedstock for product must be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
- Hot beverage cups must contain a minimum of 10% post-consumer recycled content.
U.S. Communities Office Depot contract
Catalog contains various compostable food service items.
Local distributors/manufacturers of a variety of compostable products, including bags, cutlery, and food packaging:
Aset Supply & Paper
Starch Tech, Inc.
Manufacturer of Clean Green packing material, a starch-based, biodegradable product that dissolves with water or in a compost setting.
Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)
The Biodegradable Products Institute is a multi-stakeholder association of key individuals and groups from government, industry and academia, which promotes the use and recycling of biodegradable polymeric materials (via composting).
Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative (SBC)
SBC is a network of organizations working together to spur the introduction and use of biomaterials that are sustainable from cradle to cradle. The Collaborative seeks to advance the development and diffusion of sustainable biomaterials by creating sustainability guidelines, engaging markets, and promoting policy initiatives.
Sustainable Plastics Initiatives
The Sustainable Plastics website, an initiative of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, provides information on existing bioplastic composting programs, a listing of biobased product companies and associations, and other valuable resources.
Bioenvironmental Polymer Society (BPS)
The mission of the BEPS is to encourage research, education and training and to facilitate information exchange among researchers with diverse interests, both as they relate to degradable polymers and to environmental aspects of polymers.
"Operator Insights: Compostable Products"
"Sustainable BioPolymer Purchaser Guidelines 2007-2008"
Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative
October 2, 2006
"Sustainable Bioplastics Guidelines"
Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative
June 25, 2007
"Choosing Environmentally Preferable Food Service Ware"
HealthCare Without Harm
Compostable products may be disposed of in an organics collection program, thereby diverting waste from landfills.
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide published by the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board, 4/00. The SWMCB includes members from the Minnesota metropolitan counties of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington, with ex-officio members from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.Last Revised September 9, 2008 - 8:17am