With alternative plastics such as biodegradable and compostable rising in popularity as people become more environmentally conscious, you can find these both in stores and online. However, not all States and countries are the same when it comes to regulation, with states such as Minnesota having stringent rules that standards bags must adhere to.
In Minnesota, State Regulations outline that compostable plastic bags must clearly state on the bag or labelling that they adhere to ASTM D6400 standards for composting – one of the main certifications for 100 per cent compostable plastics. They also must be completely compostable. Biodegradable bags don’t meet the standards in Minnesota and can’t be sold there.
What Are The Benefits Of Compostable Plastic Bags?
Compostable plastic can be seen as an excellent alternative to conventional plastic, with several benefits for consumers and the environment. However, in order to get the best out of using compostable plastic, it’s important to understand how you will dispose of these products.
If you plan to dispose of correctly – in a home composter, worm farm or an industrial composting facility – then compostable plastic is a great option for you.
Benefits of using compostable plastic include:
- Compostable plastic breaks down in as little as 90 days or less, and at the most, six months.
- Compostable plastic completely breaks down into its natural environment when disposed of correctly – back to natural components.
- The breakdown of these plastics can provide compost and fertilizer for your garden or industrial landscaping.
- Compostable plastic is made from natural materials, meaning that gas house emissions and use of electricity, water and the like are greatly reduced during manufacturing.
- Can be disposed of in a home composter, a worm farm or an industrial composting facility.
- Provides jobs in rural areas.
Read more about composting in this article.
Minnesota Compostable Bag Standards
In Minnesota, residents have been required to utilize compostable bags to collate their yard and organic waste since 2010. This meant that any yard or organic waste being put out for collection must be placed into either paper or compostable plastic bags to reduce the amount of plastic being sent to composting facilities.
This gave facilities less plastic to screen out when processing, reducing the operating costs and enhancing finished compost. This also reduced costs for those who haul yard waste and could lower the cost for residents paying for yard waste service.
More recently in 2020, customers also were required to bring their own bags or pay a nickel per bag from retailers. This means that retailers were able to sell single-use plastic, compostable, paper or reusable bags if consumers don’t have their own reusable bags when shopping in store.
In addition, any stores (online or in person) selling compostable plastic bags must have the products clearly labeled as adhering to the ASTM D6400 standards.
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
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.
Compostable plastic is a great alternative to plastic for those wanting to reduce their environmental impact and the bioplastics industry is very well-regulated. 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, with a certification for compostable plastic essentially meaning that it’s non-toxic and can be broken down in a composting environment.
What Is ASTM D6400?
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.
Who Are The Main Organizations That Provide Certification For Compostable Plastics?
Globally, there are multiple organizations who provide certification for compostable plastics, based in the United States of America (USA), across Europe and in Asia-Pacific, including Australia and Japan.
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).
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.
Read more about certifications in this blog.
What Should Go Inside Compostable Bags?
You can place many things in your compostable plastic bags and even more if you are taking the bags to an industrial composting facility. With Minnesota encouraging yard and organic waste, you can dispose of leaves, grass clippings, garden waste and also from your home, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, newspaper (shredded)! This means less waste across the board at home.
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. This means that when you mow the lawn, drink your morning coffee or tea, read your newspaper or clear your garden, many of these items can also be disposed of in your worm farm, home composter or industrial composting facility.
How Can You Dispose Of Compostable Plastic Bags?
When composting plastic and other items, you can send them to a commercial or industrial facility, or dispose of them at home in a home composter or a worm farm. All can take the same materials but are different in some respects.
Essentially, composting is a process that will break down renewable or organic materials back into their natural state. The matter is broken down through the presence of worms, insects, bacteria and fungi. Home composting is a possibility for anyone who is willing to create and maintain a worm farm or home composter.
When planning on disposing in an industrial composting facility, you should first find out how and where you can have your compostable plastics collected or dropped off to your local waste management plant. You should then understand the basic rules of composting such as what can be composted.
Read more about the different types of composting here.
What Happens To Compostable Bags When Collected?
When your compostable plastic bags go to an industrial composting facility, they are placed into a large composter which has the ability to process large amounts of compostable materials. These facilities are very well regulated with controls for oxygen, temperature and water.
They are also subject to high temperatures which are much higher than those reached at home in your home composter or worm farm. This higher temperature encourages the material to break down quicker into an organic-rich soil
In Minnesota, State Regulations explain that compostable plastic bags must be clearly labeled as adhering to ASTM D6400 standards for composting. The same State has ensured since 2010 that residents place their yard and organic waste into compostable bags prior to collection.
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 adhere to these standards, a plastic bag must go through four testing stages to ensure complete breakdown.
Compostable plastics are a great alternative to traditional plastics, and understanding how and where to dispose of these items in your area are key to getting the most out of the product.