Legitimate Challenges for Compostable Film Products
For the final blog in the “Compostable Objections” series, we’re going to cover legitimate issues with compostable film products that are still being worked out in the industry. As a reminder, here is what we have covered so far.
- Using outdated/non-scientific information to form objections
- Presenting biased information to support specific interests
- Legitimate challenges that need to be addressed by the industry (this blog)
The truth is there are real challenges that still need to be worked out in the compostable industry. For this final article, we’ll go over common objections one at a time, provide information and context, and give an update on what the industry is doing to move forward.
1) Petroleum is used in the making of compostable film
It’s true. All compostable film bags use petroleum to some extent. The percentage of the resin that is made with petroleum is what increases the strength and the water resistance of the bag. Another important ingredient of the resin is derived from corn or similar organic sources which is why you see mention of this on many packages. The bottom line is that using a higher percentage of organic sources, like corn starch, will lower the cost to produce and reduce the durability of the bag, but won’t meaningfully impact it’s compostability. It’s important to know that the way petroleum is refined for use in compostable products allows it break down completely in the composting process. As much as we’d prefer to use only renewable resources in our bags, there are currently no such substitutes for this application.
2) Compostable film products won’t compost in a backyard composter
This is mostly true. Backyard compost systems are phenomenal at slowly composting simple organic materials. Compostable film bags rely on the heat that is generated through high micro-organism activity that can only be achieved in commercial composting facilities. There are some backyard compostable certifications for compostable film products, but the real-world results vary, so we don’t recommend going this route.
3) Compostable film bags take up to 6 months to break down
This is partially true. While 6 months is the guidelines used for BPI certification, all reputable compostable film bags and products will break down within a regular composting interval (usually 90 days). This timeline varies between composting methods. For example, there are in-vessel composting systems that can convert organic waste and compostable film products in to finished compost in as little as 24 hours. This is why we support CMA certifications. The Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA) tests a product’s compostability in a real world scenario to get a more accurate picture of what different composters can expect. This is also why every single EcoSafe product is CMA certified for all available composting methods.
4) The compostable products industry is full of green washing
Very true. Unfortunately, this is a real problem that EcoSafe, and other companies with legitimate interest in improving the environment, are fighting every day. There are companies that claim to be compostable without any certifications or way to verify what they are claiming. There are BPI certified products that will not break down in a composting cycle. There are companies who don’t work with the industry around them to ensure that their products can be properly identified as compostable. Worst of all, there are still companies that make claims about being “biodegradeable”, “oxodegradable” and other misleading and meaningless terms. These are all real concerns, and we work closely with certification bodies like BPI, and CMA as well as environmental bodies like the Compost Council of Canada and the US Composting Council, to find ways to weed out these bad actors.
5) Compostable film products get screened out
At some composters, yes. Every composting system needs a process to screen out contamination. In some cases, staff at the composter will manually pull things out of the organic feed stock. In other cases, however, there are machines that are designed to catch and remove things like plastic bags, which are one of the most common contaminants. These machines will catch compostable film plastic and separate them for landfill. As compostable film bags become more common for their convenience and positive impact on collection rates, the expectation is that these screeners will be updated or removed.
6) Not every composter can process compostable films
True. There is more than one way to compost organic waste, and different systems work better in different climates and situations. Because every system may degrade compostable film products differently, EcoSafe works with the Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA) to test and certify all our products as viable in every compost system that they offer. This offers a huge level of assurance to composters across the continent that our products have passed real world tests in compostable systems like theirs. There are still some composting methods that CMA does not certify for, but that number is shrinking every year.
Those 6 things cover the most common questions currently facing the compostable film industry. EcoSafe and other environment-loving companies are always working to iron out issues and work with governments to make it safe and reliable to compost your organic waste.
Do you have questions that weren’t answered here? Leave a comment and we’ll be happy to answer. We may even add your question as an update to this blog!