With the rising interest in reducing waste such as traditional plastics from landfill and marine environments, many governments around the world are putting regulations into place. Massachusetts has specific regulations around the supply and sale of plastic bags.
In 2018, Massachusetts put a plastic bag ordinance into effect whereby retailers could only supply reusable, recyclable or compostable bags to customers rather than the traditional plastic. The City also encourages the composting of compostable paper items, food scraps and other compostable items.
Supplying Compostable Bags At Retail Stores
In Massachusetts, the plastic bag ordinance aims to reduce litter, protect the ocean and waterways from pollution, reduce greenhouse gases and solid waste in the waste stream. In the City, retailers can supply bags with handles to customers that are one of the three following types:
- Recyclable paper bag that is 100 per cent recyclable, made from at least 40 per cent recycled material
- Compostable bags conforming to ASTM D6400
- Reusable bag which can be used more than once.
This only applies to checkout bags or carry bags and doesn’t include newspaper bags, bags wrapping food products such as meat, fish or produce. It also doesn’t include laundry or dry cleaner bags or trash can liners.
These bags also must be sold for at least five cents and the price must be advertised within five feet of the checkout. Retailers can be fined on second violations
What Are Compostable Plastics Made From?
Compostable plastic is made from renewable materials that will break down when they start to compost. Thai can include 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 when composted.
Compostable plastic provides a great alternative to traditional plastic as it breaks down completely into natural matter rather rapidly. While a typical plastic bag may take thousands of years to break down, compostable plastic can be broken down in an industrial composter.
Compostable products can also be broken down with other compostable items such as tea bags, papers, coffee grounds, yard and food waste in the same pile. The manufacturing of compostable plastic uses less electricity and water, releases less greenhouse gas and provides jobs in rural areas.
What Is ASTM D6400?
Compostable plastics, among other alternative plastics, are subject to certain specifications and certifications. In Massachusetts, compostable carry bags must adhere to the ASTMD6400 standard.
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 labeling of plastics that are designed to be composted aerobically in home or industrial composting facilities.
ASTM D6400 is a standard specification for the biodegradation or composting of solid materials that are designed to be composted in industrial composting facilities. To be labeled as compliant, a product undergoes a series of four-part tests to evaluate their compostability. This includes elemental analysis, plant germination and mesh filtration of the end resulting particles.
You can read more about the different certifications in this blog.
How Do You Dispose of Compostable Plastic Bags?
Compostable plastics are best broken down in an industrial composter as they are set up perfectly with the right temperature, moisture levels, air and other important factors for decomposition.
Compostable bags won’t decompose well in landfill and will only contribute to the waste problem, similar to traditional plastics. In the right environment, a compostable bag will take around 90 days to decompose.
Compostable plastic bags can be disposed of in:
- An industrial composting facility
- Home composter
- Worm farm.
Composting can be achieved at home or in an industrial facility, with the fundamental factors being the same. The difference is the control and measurements of an industrial or commercial facility over the less regimented home composter or worm farm.
What Is Composting?
Composting is a process that sees materials such as compostable plastic or organic material such as food scraps, placed into a composter. This matter is then broken down through the presence of insects, worms, bacteria and fungi.
Compost can then be utilised as fertilizer in gardens or fields as it has been broken down to organic matter and is full of useful nutrients. Worm farms are slightly different in that you must also consider the health of the worms, meaning certain food scraps (such as those high in acidity) can’t be placed into a worm farm.
Learn more about what goes into a home composter or worm farm here.
Commercial Organics Waste Ban
In Massachusetts, the disposal of commercial organic wastes by businesses and institutions that dispose of more than one ton per week has been banned. This is to focus on diverting 35 per cent of all food waste disposal in the state by 2020.
The City hopes that by diverting the wastes from disposal to composting, conversion, recycling or reuse, waste management costs are reduced as is the costs of purchasing. The City of Boston also has a compost bin program called Project Oscar which gives communities a place to drop off residential food scraps for composting.
This pilot program is currently operating at five locations. Find out more information about where you can drop off waste and what you can put into the bins which you can purchase with a Government subsidy. https://www.boston.gov/departments/public-works/project-oscar
How Are Food Scraps Disposed Of?
Unfortunately, much of bio waste and food scraps currently ends up in landfill or is incinerated to make energy. In landfill, food decomposes and enters the soil and air which can damage or contaminate the environment.
Incinerators on the other hand, produce energy but also fuel a wasteful mindset to businesses and consumers while also impacting people and the environment.
There are many food scraps that are disposed of on a daily basis and can actually be composted or diverted. Items such as egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, newspaper (shredded), leaves or even grass clippings can be composted.
However, food such as meat, fish or dairy isn’t suitable for a home composter as animals can be attracted (such as mice or rats) to the composter.
What Food Scraps Can Be Composted?
Many people use home composters to minimize their environmental impact and reduce waste, as well as fertilize their own gardens. You can dispose of food waste such as fruits, coffee grounds and vegetables along with compostable plastics at home.
Some household or garden waste you can dispose of in your home composter include:
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves or tea bags
- Food waste such as vegetables or fruit scraps (except in a worm farm – nothing acidic!)
- Leftover bread, pasta or cereals
- Dry cat or dog food
- Twigs, leaves or grass clippings
- Shredded newspaper or printer paper (no colored dye).
You can learn more about the different composting processes in this blog.
Benefits Of This Law
There are many benefits for states and countries who encourage mindful disposal of waste and encourage composting. This includes:
- Encourages and educates residents on the benefits of composting and finding alternatives to food waste disposal.
- Turns household waste into useful compost and eliminates environmental contamination
- Increases jobs in rural areas through increased production of compostable plastics
- Raises awareness of the environmental impact of landfill contributions
- Educates the general public on the different diversion options available
- Provides standards for the manufacturing and disposal of items
- Encourages businesses to be more mindful.
Ways To Follow The Law
Massachusetts collects and composts residents’ yard waste on recycling days when residents can put leaves and yard waste in large paper leaf bags or barrels labeled as yard waste. Other ways to follow the laws in Massachusetts include:
- Purchase carry bags that are reusable or compostable in store
- Bring your own reusable carry bags in store
- Compost at home if possible
- Be mindful of food waste and your diversion options
- Leave yard waste out for collection
- Businesses be aware of not sending food waste to normal waste disposal if over one ton
- On-farm composting is also possible with a permit.
Learn more about other States’ rules on composting in this article.
The City of Massachusetts is focused on reducing waste and diverting items such as food scraps from the normal waste disposal. In 2018, a plastic ordinance came into play meaning that retailers could only supply reusable, recyclable or compostable bags to customers rather than the traditional plastic.
The City also encourages the composting of compostable paper items, food scraps and other compostable items. The disposal or commercial organic wastes by businesses that dispose of more than one ton per week has been banned.
It’s important if you live in Massachusetts to understand your options when shopping for reusable or compostable bags, your guidelines as a business disposing of large amounts of food waste, and how and when you can leave waste out for composting.
If you’re in Boston, understand if you’re in one of the five locations trialing Project Oscar.