When it comes to plastic alternatives, many countries will differ with their rules and regulations, but what are the factors to consider in Australia for biodegradable and compostable plastic?
In Australia, there is currently no mandatory standard on biodegradability or degradability. Compostable plastics however, must be tested and certified aligned with Australian standard AS4735 for commercial composting, meaning they must disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely decompose after six months so that 90 per cent or more of the material converts to CO2.
Who Regulates Biodegradable Plastic In Australia?
In Australia, currently none regulates biodegradable plastics, nor is there a certification or testing process. However, this is where it can get confusing, as there is an Australian Standard that refers to biodegradable but it’s moreso related to the Plastic Shopping Bags Ban Act (2010) Australian Capital Territory.
This standard (AS 4736-2006: Biodegradable Plastic-Biodegradable Plastics Suitable for Composting and other Microbial Treatment) essentially provides that stores cannot provide customers with a plastic shopping or carry bag unless it’s made of biodegradable plastic:
“This standard specifies requirements and procedures to determine the compostability, or anaerobic biodegradation, of plastics by addressing biodegradability, disintegration during biological treatment, effect on the biological treatment process and effect on the quality of the resulting compost
You must not provide customers with a plastic shopping bag unless it is made of a biodegradable plastic. A plastic shopping bag is a bag that is made, in whole or in part, of polyethylene with a thickness of less than 35 microns. A plastic shopping bag does not include a bag that is an integral part of the packaging in which goods are sealed prior to sale or a bag used to protect its contents from degrading factors such as moisture or air.” Read more here.
It’s important to note that Australia plans to ban biodegradable plastics in the near future as part of the national plastics plan. This outlines steps to 2030 to reduce certain types of plastics. By 2025, the national industry packaging targets expect 100 per cent of packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
This target will largely remove a lot of biodegradable options from the market.
Who Regulates Compostable Plastic In Australia?
In Australia, there are ‘Australian Standards’ that must be adhered to when it comes to compostable plastics. They also must be labeled after being tested to ensure they meet these standards for sale and use.
There are two main standards in the country for compostable plastic:
AS 4736-2006: Industrial Compostability
AS 5810-2010: Home Compostable.
These standards are similar to the European EN 13432 standard but have an additional requirement of a worm test. Both standards must result in a minimum of 90% biodegradation, have no toxic effect on compost, plants and earthworms and materials should contain more than 50% organic material.
It’s important to note that these regulations are based on Australian Standards which are voluntary documents created by consensus. However, many of these do get adopted into legislation and become mandatory.
Who Certifies Compostable Plastic?
Compostable plastics can be certified as such by any one of the common certifiers. There are five common certifications across several countries including the United States, Europe and Asia-Pacific. The most common are Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI, USA), Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA, Australia), American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM, USA), International Organization for Standardization (ISO, global) and European Bioplastics (eV, Berlin).
A certification for compostable plastic essentially means that it is non-toxic and can be broken down in a composting environment. Companies providing compostable plastics can have one or several of these certifications, meaning a third-party has verified their product as compostable and non-toxic for soil.
Who Is The Australasian Bioplastics Association?
The Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) is the peak industry body in Australia for manufacturers, converters and distributors of bioplastics in both Australia and New Zealand. They provide certification, advocate for renewable materials in industry and work to produce new alternative plastic products.
ABA also has strong links to European Bioplastics, Japan Bioplastics, Korean Bioplastics, Bioplastics Product Institute US and other Associations across the Asia-Pacific. Their voluntary verification scheme aligns compliance with the Australian Standard for biodegradable plastics and home composting Australian standards.
What Is The Certification Process For Biodegradable And Compostable Plastic Certification?
There are similarities between most organizations and how they will certify compostable plastics. The process is reasonably similar from a testing regime against the relevant industry standards to application for formal certification.
A product labeled as compostable in an industrial composting facility must have correct temperature controls and specially formulated microbial conditions in order to properly compost. In order to gain this accreditation, there are several steps that most certifiers will follow:
- Testing regime
- Third-party certification.
Although there are current standards across the world for compostable plastics, the current process is completely voluntary and there is no real regulation on the industry. A manufacturer is responsible for deciding whether or not they wish to be certified.
This of course helps them to gain credibility with consumers, but they will not get into any real legal trouble for not obtaining certification for their product or material.
What Is The Definition Of Compostable Plastic?
Compostable plastic is any bioplastic made from completely natural components. This makes it perfect for composting in a home composter, industrial composter or worm farm as it will break down completely and deliver nutrient-rich soil.
Compostable plastic is also called a ‘next-generation’ plastic. The materials used to manufacture compostable plastics vary, but include renewable materials such as corn, soy protein, potato, tapioca starches, lactic acid and cellulose. These materials mean that compostable plastics are non-toxic and can decompose quickly when composted.
It’s non-toxic however, if disposed of in landfill, won’t break down rapidly at all. In order to take full advantage of compostable plastic, you must dispose of it correctly. This will then take the decomposing process from the decades or centuries that it takes traditional plastic to disappear, to weeks or months.
What Is The Definition Of Biodegradable Plastic?
Biodegradable plastic is manufactured to decompose in landfill environments, with the addition of special microbes added in manufacturing. Essentially this means that when it’s exposed to temperature or humidity or even sun and air, these microbes go to work to break up the plastic.
It’s usually made with a mix of natural components and traditional plastic chemicals, which means that it may leave behind some micro plastics or toxic residue when decomposing in landfill. It’s important to note that biodegradable plastics cannot be broken down in a composter or industrial composting facility and must be broken down in the ground including landfill where they may leach toxic chemicals.
Benefits Of This Regulation
As with anything, the benefits of regulations is that consumers can be somewhat confident in what they are buying. With these standards, consumers are able to be relatively assured that they can compost compostable plastics or dispose of biodegradable items in landfill.
Consumers can also rest assured that the product is non-toxic to them, their families and the environment when a product is certified compostable. It also helps to understand how to dispose of the product.
For manufacturers, there are some key and obvious benefits for having your compostable plastic products or materials certified, namely the ability to promote your product as such. A certification proves to consumers that your item is a bioplastic and NOT traditional plastic and flags that the material conforms to standards.
This is a clear advantage for companies as they are then distinguished as selling a bioplastic and not a conventional plastic to consumers and other companies. The certification provides proof of product and also allows simple sorting of waste.
The certification also helps to ensure the correct handling of the product in the composting process. This will help a consumer to not only identify that your product is certified compostable but also that they need to dispose of it in a home composter or industrial composting facility.
Ways To Follow The Regulation
As a consumer, there’s not much you can do to follow these regulations except look out for the certifications on your products before purchasing. See an example of a certified compostable product below:
These will usually be placed on the actual item or on the packaging and are a good indication that the product has been tested by a third-party and meets the Australian Standards for home or industrial composting.
We all know by now that biodegradable and compostable plastic are great alternatives to plastic for those wanting to reduce their environmental impact, however, there are not a lot of laws that regulate these standards.
Fortunately, there are standards in countries like Australia and there are several available certifications, meaning that consumers can rest assured they are purchasing a certified compostable product.
There are five common certifications for compostable plastic across several countries including the United States, Europe and Australia. The most common are Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI, USA), Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA, Australia), American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM, USA), International Organization for Standardization (ISO, global) and European Bioplastics (eV, Berlin).
A certification for compostable plastic essentially means that it is non-toxic and can be broken down in a composting environment. Australia has no mandatory standard on biodegradability or degradability. And is looking to ban biodegradable plastics in most forms by 2025.
Compostable plastics however, must be tested and certified aligned with Australian standard AS4735 for commercial composting, meaning they must disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely decompose after six months so that 90 per cent or more of the material converts to CO2.