Many states, territories and countries around the world are wising up when it comes to compostable bags and the need for not only encouragement for the usage but also regulation in the industry.
Washington State is encouraging less plastic and more compostable options with their recent plastic bag ban to reduce pollution. Washington implemented their ban on single-use plastic carry bags in October 2021 and also encourage recycling and composting by residents and businesses.
Why A Plastic Bag Ban?
Plastic bags are seen as a major contributor to landfill as well as a contaminant to not only the environment but Washington’s recycling facilities. The October 2021 plastic bag ban on single-use plastic carry bags will reduce pollution and charge for acceptable bags in stores.
The legislation went through in 2020 to benefit the State’s recycling system in ways including:
- Reducing contamination in recycling and compost facilities
- Promoting the use of plastic alternatives such as reusable and recyclable items
- Support recycling
- Keep policies consistent across the State and country
- Keep fees on buying bags consistent across the State by charging 8 cents for all large paper bags and thick reusable plastic bags.
This law is applicable to food service businesses, retail stores, grocery stores, restaurants, takeout stores, festivals and markets.
City of Seattle Bag Requirements Law
Seattle was, in fact, the first major United States city to ban plastic utensils and straws in 2018. So it should come as no surprise that they also adopted a statewide bag ban in January 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the rollout yet it is now in place.
As part of these laws the following are applicable:
- Bags must not have the words ‘biodegradable’, ‘decomposable’ or ‘degradable’ printed on them
- Bag charges must be listed on receipts as they are taxable items
- The plastic bags can’t be tinted green or brown UNLESS certified compostable
- Paper bags must contain minimum 40 per cent recycled content and meet composting guidelines
- Plastic bags must contain 20 per cent post-consumer content and be a minimum of 2.25 millimetres thick
- Compliant bags must be labeled with the post-consumer content specifications
- There is a fine for repeated violations.
The current ban exempts food banks and food assistance programs but they are encouraged to take part.
Product Degradability – Labeling
Washington legislation was passed in April 2020 that restricts the marketing or degradable products and regulates the market. This includes food packaging and service ware, specifying that all products labeled as compostable must be wood or fibre-based OR meet the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) composting standards D6400 or D6868.
The items must also meet the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) green guide labeling requirements and have a logo from a third party certifier. This legislation also prohibits the terms ‘biodegradable,’ ‘degradable,’ ‘decomposable,’ or ‘oxo-degradable.’
Other guidelines include:
- ASTM compliant food service clients must be easily identified with a logo indicating ASTM compliance as well as the word ‘compostable’ where possible
- Food service items that don’t meet ASTM standards are not allowed to use any terms, labels or tinting that would falsely promote they are certified compostable
- Manufacturers and suppliers don’t need to comply with any of these new requirements if they conflict with the FTC green guides.
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
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.
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) develops and provides 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.
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.
What Is ASTM D6868?
ASTM D6868 is the certification standard which tests materials, products or packaging with biodegradable film or coating in a compostable product. The tests determine whether or not the entire product can be composted in an aerobic composting facility.
ASTM D6868 is essentially the step after D6400 in that it doesn’t relate to items without the film or coating and defers to D6400 for those items.
Alternative Bag Options
With all the awareness of how traditional plastic negatively impacts the environment, the biggest benefit of using an alternative bag option is that you will be reducing your environmental footprint in several ways. A typical plastic bag can take centuries to thousands of years to break down in landfill.
Whereas, choosing something reusable, compostable, biodegradable or recyclable helps to reduce your contributions to landfill. There are also so many options. You can choose to use biodegradable, compostable or even reusable bags made from fabric.
When disposed of correctly, biodegradable plastic will break down quickly in a landfill environment, compostable will create high-quality fertilizer and fabric bags will withstand hundreds or thousands of uses. Consider how you can reduce your environmental impact by carrying some reusable bags with you and saying ‘no’ to single-use plastics next time you’re at the store.
Recycling Options For Residents
Washington State runs recycling programs across the spectrum of items including:
- Mercury-containing lights
- Food waste
- Organic materials
- Solar panels.
Through these programs, the State supports recycling and reuse of items by working with other local governments and businesses to build an efficient recycling system. Residents can also leave recyclable items out once a week for collection by the Department of Public Works.
All items can be placed loosely in one container for residents. However, those in large apartment or commercial buildings/properties must provide their own recycling collection services. You can find out more about recycling requirements for commercial properties here: http://zerowaste.dc.gov/page/recycle-businesses
Benefits Of This Law
The benefits of any law which encourages less pollution and options such as composting is vast for states and countries. Some of the benefits of a plastic bag ban include:
- Reduced contribution to landfill
- Reduced risk of contaminating waterways and soil environments
- Reduced risk of toxic residue leaching into the environment
- Encouragement of reusable items
- Promotion of composting which results in nutrient-rich fertilizer
- Less greenhouse emissions in the manufacturing process
- Less electricity and water usage in manufacturing
- Reduced use of crude oil in manufacturing
- Increased awareness on the importance of protecting the environment.
Ways To Follow The Law
If you’re living in Washington, the best ways to follow the laws are to be aware of your bag options when purchasing items and food, to understand the ASTM and other certifications for compostable and to understand where and how you can dispose of your waste in your City.
- Ensure that any items labeled as compostable are certified with a logo where possible and/or the words compostable
- Understand that you can bring your own bags to the store or market, or purchase some for 8 cents each
- Know that ASTM standards apply for compostable items
- Understand what can be recycled
- Know what is compostable
- Find out the best ways to dispose of your waste in your individual area, which includes weekly recycling collection in Washington.
Washington has joined many other states and territories in implementing a plastic bag ban for stores and markets to reduce waste and pollution. In the State, you can purchase bags at the store for 8 cents or choose to bring your own reusable bags.
Seattle led the way with banning single-use items such as straws and this bag ban takes this one step further, along with regulating the manufacturing industry. The State encourages recycling and composting by both residents and businesses and collects waste weekly.
Plastic bags are seen as a major contributor to landfill as well as a contaminant to not only the environment but Washington’s recycling facilities. The October 2021 plastic bag ban on single-use plastic carry bags will reduce pollution and potential for contamination in waste facilities.
Labeling regulations also encourage conscious manufacturing and purchasing, making any items that are compostable to adhere to ASTM standards and be marked as such. The terms ‘biodegradable,’ ‘degradable,’ ‘decomposable,’ or ‘oxo-degradable’ are also prohibited.
Any areas implementing such legislation are a benefit to the environment as they encourage mindful usage of alternatives to traditional plastic and reduce contributions to landfill.