New York State Regulations On Using Compostable Bags

New York State Regulations On Using Compostable Bags


Did you know that not all States and countries are the same when it comes to regulation of plastic alternatives? In fact, many States in America have stringent rules that standards bags must adhere to, including New York who has introduced new plastic bag bans as of 2020.

In 2020, New York legislation came into effect banning plastic bags to be used to pack items in stores. The legislation also encouraged customers to bring their own reusable bags which must meet stringent standards including being able to be washed by hand or in a machine, be utilized at least 125 times and be able to hold 22 pounds over a distance of 175 feet. Compostable bags don’t fit this criteria but can be used around the home.


New York Legislation For Stores Using Bags

With this new legislation, brings new rules for stores operating in New York State. Essentially, a store can’t pack items in a plastic bag or supply plastic bags. The customer must provide or purchase their own reusable bags.

Bags provided or used in store must adhere to the following standards:

  • Be reusable.
  • Be machine washable or able to be washed by hand.
  • Hold up to 22 pounds without breaking.
  • Be able to carry this weight for at least 175 feet.
  • Have the ability to be used a minimum of 125 times.

Unfortunately, this then removes biodegradable and compostable bags from most of these uses, as they will often be weaker and break down quicker than the weight and time frame specified. They would then be considered ‘banned plastic bags’ unless they were able to meet the above standards.

NYC Compost project

NYC Compost Project

In 1993, New York’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) created the ‘NYC Compost Project’ to provide New Yorkers with the knowledge, skills and opportunity to produce and use compost locally. These programs are run by the DSNY along with partner organizations including:

  • Big Reuse
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Earth Matter NY
  • The New York Botanical Garden
  • Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden
  • Queens Botanical Garden
  • LES Ecology Center.

The aim of the program is to rebuild New York soil with good-quality compost and fertilizer while also reducing waste. 


How Does Compostable Plastic Break Down?

Traditional plastic can stay in landfill for decades and even centuries which contributes to the waste issue and clogs up our landfill. It also leaves behind toxic chemicals which can impact wildlife and the environment.

However, compostable bags when disposed of completely can take around 90 days to decompose. This is when they are placed in an industrial or home composter, or worm farm environment.

Plastic breaks down due to the microbes or fungi in the surrounding environment, however, compostable plastic is best broken down in an industrial composter as that’s what it’s designed for rather than landfill. These composters are set up perfectly with the right temperature, moisture levels, air and other important factors for decomposition. They also take bulk amounts of compostable materials that can be used for large landscaping projects.

You can also use a worm farm or home composter to generate your own fertilizer. Be sure to do your research though as these can only take certain other materials and need certain controls in place to work effectively.

The good thing about compostable plastic is that it breaks down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass, meaning it completely disintegrates and becomes indistinguishable in the compost. Compostable plastic trash bags also don’t leave any toxic material behind whatsoever.

However, if you don’t dispose of them correctly, compostable plastic trash bags will contribute to the waste issue and create more pollution. They are unable to break down in a landfill environment at all and require composting or a worm farm.

Learn more about the different types of composting here.


Benefits Of Composting

There are many reasons you should look into compostable plastic for uses around your home such as holding food scraps, yard scraps or other compostable organic materials. It’s an excellent alternative to conventional plastic.

Compostable plastic benefits the environment and the consumer on many levels when disposed of correctly. Some key benefits 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.

How happens when you bury compostable material

How To Compost Bags?

Compostable plastic can be disposed of in three ways:

  • Industrial composting facility
  • Home composter
  • Worm farm.

In New York, if you choose to not compost at home, you can place into your ‘brown’ bin for collection. This will combine with your food scraps and yard waste and be taken to a composting facility to be turned into good-quality fertilizer or renewable energy. 

If you choose not to compost at home, you can drop off for collection at a composting facility or leave in your brown bin. You can search in your local area for a collection point:

Compostable items include compostable plastic, food scraps, soiled paper, plants, items labelled compostable.

If you’re unsure, you can contact your local collection coordinator or waste transfer station. 

Check out our home experiment!


When Can You Use Compostable Bags In New York?

With compostable plastic bags being classed as ‘banned’ plastic bags when it comes to packing items in a store, how else can you use compostable plastic bags in New York? Firstly, they must be BPI-Certified compostable and be able to be placed into a brown bin.

This means that you can use compostable plastic bags at home for:

  • Storing food scraps.
  • Storing light, small items for small periods of time (storage).
  • Holding yard and grass clippings.
  • Disposing of coffee beans and tea bags.

You don’t need to use compostable bags but they are a great way to reduce your use of traditional plastic carry, garbage and scrap bags at home.


Ways To Follow The Law

In New York, the best way to follow the laws around compostable plastic bags is to ensure they are certified compostable as outlined above. You should also understand how to dispose of them which is in your brown bin, home composter or worm farm.

If setting out for collection, you must place it into the brown bin without any other plastic such as a bin liner. You can also place leaf, yard waste and food scraps in the same brown bin for collection. Try to limit your usage of compostable plastic bags to home and personal use rather than packing in a store.

ETSUS biodegradable trash bag


With all States and countries having different rules for compostable plastic bags, it’s important to understand the rules in New York and follow them. You can purchase compostable plastic bags in New York to use at home but you can’t use them to pack items in a store.

As most compostable plastic carry bags don’t fall into the ‘reusable’ bag category due to their inability to be washed, reused 125 times or more or carry heavy items for long distances, they are best used at home. To dispose of, place into your home composter, worm farm or dispose of in your brown bin.



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