Compostable plastic is growing in popularity, being found in stores and online. However, not all States and countries are the same when it comes to regulation, in fact, some States won’t even allow certain bags to be shipped there.
California’s State regulations for compostable bags essentially ensure that such bags adhere to certain standards, not allowing any that do NOT meet the applicable standards to be shipped or sold there. The ASTM standard and Vincotte OK Compost HOME certification are the only applicable certifications for Californians.
What Is Compostable Plastic?
Compostable plastic is becoming widely popular across the world as a great alternative to the typical toxic plastic most popular items such as plastic bags have been made from for decades. A ‘next-generation’ plastic, compostable plastic is made from renewable materials that will break down when they start to compost.
A typical plastic bag may take thousands of years to break down, however, compostable plastic can be broken down in an industrial composter, home composter or even worm farm much more rapidly. In California, compostable plastics must adhere to specific standards.
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.
Marketing Compostable Plastics In California
The legislation (California Law (SB 1383)) outlines the marketing of compostable plastics, ensuring that there are no incorrect claims made about the compostability of the item and consumers are well aware of what certifications an item has.
California Law and the Federal Trade Commission Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims states that a manufacturer of compostable plastic bags must meet ASTM standards. These are also set out in the legislation that ensures that the compostable plastic bag is readily and easily identifiable from other plastic bags in a manner that is consistent with this guidance.
The legislation also specifies that outside of these laws, you can’t sell a plastic bag in California labelled ‘biodegradable’, degradable’ or ‘decomposable’ or any terms including compostable, or even imply the bag will break down, biodegrade, decompose or fragment unless they are certified as per the legislation.
The legislation also provides for fining of any company or persons who break the laws above. They can impose penalties from $500 upwards depending on the number of offences.
2021-2022 California Waste and Recycling Legislation
In 2016, a policy was introduced and signed into law for residents and businesses in California to recycle organic waste and provide collection services. Jurisdictions within the State were given more than five years to prepare and educate residents, with the policy going into effect in 2022.
This new legislation will require both businesses and residents to recycle all organic waste, but the individual jurisdictions must also provide organic waste collection services. This legislation was created with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and climate change.
What Does Organic Waste Mean?
Under this definition of organic waste, inclusions are:
- Food scraps
- Landscape waste
- Organic textiles.
What Are Jurisdictions Responsible For?
In addition to providing these organic waste collection services, the different jurisdictions or areas are also responsible for educating residents and businesses in their area about collection requirements.
How they go about this is completely up to them, with lawmakers providing guidance that it could be through electronic materials i.e. online, direct outreach or hard copy materials. They can also choose the way in which they collect, providing they are able to recycle the organic waste into usable products such as compost, paper or biofuel.
Why Can’t Compostable Bags Be Shipped To California From Amazon?
California legislation provides that any plastic products sold in the State and labelled as compostable, marine degradable or home compostable may only do so if they meet the applicable ASTM standard or have Vincotte OK Compost Home certification.
With most international products not holding these certifications or standards, they will not be allowed into California. This means they can’t be sold in store or even online (such as on Amazon) and shipped from elsewhere. These laws are serious and fines can be imposed for companies not adhering to them.
Amazon sells products from all over the world and so it makes sense that not all products will meet ASTM or Vincotte standards/certifications. It’s best therefore, to find a local supplier if you live in California. This will protect both you and the business from infringing the law.
How Do You Tell Compostable Is Really Compostable?
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.
However, as we’ve learned in this blog, not all certifications are applicable in all States in the US or all countries so it’s important to understand what certifications your region deems appropriate.
Who Are The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
As discussed in this article, California accepts two types of certifications: ASTM and Vincotte. So who are these certifiers?
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is a large organization who develop and provide voluntary consensus standards, technical information and services to promote public health and safety, protect the environment and promote sustainability.
ASTM provides certification for biodegradable and compostable materials through a standard specification. Their certification looks at the labelling of plastics that are designed to be composted aerobically in home or industrial composting facilities.
What Is Vincotte OK Compost Home?
The OK compost HOME seal from Vincotte certifies compostable plastics, in essence, identifying a bioplastic or biodegradable product as being compostable in a non-industrial home compost facility.
When a product is labelled with the OK compost HOME seal, it is considered to have fulfilled the OK compost requirements under EN 13432 / 14995. Vincotte has since been taken over by TUV Austria.
Are Any Compostable Bags Made In California?
With the strict legislation on compostable plastics in California, are any compostable bags actually manufactured in California? The answer is yes! Rest assured, there are manufacturers and suppliers in California who adhere to the legislation for their products.
You can search on the internet and several key manufacturers will show up, along with many distributors/suppliers. BioBag® is one of the larger manufacturers in California, providing bags and films for organic waste collection that can be composted.
BioBag products are made from a resin derived from plants, vegetable oils and compostable polymers and can be consumed by microorganisms that live in our soil. This means that the products can be composted alongside organic waste at industrial composting facilities or in home composters.
The company also works closely with communities and governments to establish food waste separation programs and provide education on the benefits of keeping food waste and compostable items out of landfill.
Other manufacturers in California include Sengtor – manufacturing standard and custom eco-friendly trash bags made from compostable and biodegradable cornstarch. They also manufacture cutlery, bottles, disposable gloves and lunchboxes along with masks and respirators.
Transpak manufactures standard and custom biodegradable bags using materials such as paper, steel and wood. All their materials are reusable, recyclable or biodegradable.
Where Can You Dispose Of Compostable Bags in California?
As with all compostable plastics, you can dispose of them in several ways:
- Industrial composting facility
- Home composter
- Worm farm.
In California, if you choose to not compost at home, you can drop off for collection at a composting facility. You can search in your local area for a collection coordinator or collection point: https://www2.calrecycle.ca.gov/LGCentral/Contacts
You can drop off at your local waste transfer station or if you have a green cart, you can place compostable materials in there for collection. These carts can be filled with food scraps, soiled paper, plants, items labelled compostable and displaying a green or brown stripe.
If you’re unsure, you can contact your local collection coordinator or waste transfer station.
California State regulations for compostable plastics ensure that all items adhere to certain standards. This means, they must be eligible for ASTM or Vincotte OK Compost HOME certification to be sold in California. You can dispose of compostable plastics in California in an industrial composting facility, home composter or worm farm.
You can contact your closest collection point, waste transfer station or collection coordinator to find out how to dispose of compostable plastics near you. Alternatively, if you have a green cart, you can place your compostables there.
It’s important to ensure that you find the right way to dispose of such plastics or else you will be contributing to landfill or contaminating waste. To reduce your environmental footprint with compostable plastics, disposal is key.