BioCycle May 2015
National Organic Program And Biodegradable Ag Mulch Films
On September 30, 2014, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) published a final rule in the Federal Register about biodegradable agricultural mulch films for organic farms. The NOP’s decision, which evolved out of two years of public discussion and testimony by many organic farmers, was to list biodegradable biobased mulch film as an allowed synthetic for use in organic crop production. In the final rule, a biodegradable biobased mulch film was defined as a synthetic mulch film that meets the following criteria: 1) Demonstrates at least 90 percent biodegradation absolute or relative to microcrystalline cellulose in less than two years, in soil, based on established test methods (e.g., ASTM D5988); 2) Compostability specifications of established standards (e.g., ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868); and 3) Must be biobased with content determined using ASTM D6866.
The third criteria was ambiguous with regard to how much biobased content had to be included, i.e., a minimum biobased content was not established. In January 2015, the NOP issued a guidance document that instructs certification agents and material review organizations to allow only biodegradable biobased mulch film that contains 100 percent biobased feedstock. Because all biodegradable mulch films available today contain some non-biobased synthetic polymer feedstocks, such as petrochemical resins, the guidance document essentially nullifies the NOP’s final rule published in September 2014.
According to Steven Mojo, Executive Director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), “this guidance document was issued by NOP with the understanding that no commercially available products meet this 100 percent biobased requirement, nor are any acceptable biodegradable products going to be available in the foreseeable future.” He emphasizes the NOP decision only affects the use of biobased, biodegradable mulch films by organic farmers. In fact, for conventional agriculture, the BPI is proceeding with plans to introduce a new certification for biodegradable, biobased mulch films based on the standards contained in the three criteria noted above.
Mojo explains that strong grower support was a key reason why the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended in October 2012 that NOP adopt their recommendations, which became final in the September 2014 rule. “In public hearings and comment periods, growers commented that conventional polyethylene mulches are labor intensive, as they must be removed at the end of the season and disposed, taking soils with them,” he says. “They also leave nondegradable plastic fragments, which will remain in the soils for long periods of time. Little concern was expressed by the growers about petroleum vs. biobased content.”
As a result of continuing strong support from farmers, the NOP announced at the NOSB’s Spring meeting in April, that it was commissioning a study to investigate the biobased content of currently available ag mulch films that satisfy the other requirements of the NOSB recommendations. This may lead to revisions in the guidance documents.
Phase Out Of Single-Use Plastic Bags In EU
In late April, the European Parliament gave its final approval for legislation amending the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) to reduce the use of conventional single use plastic carrier bags. The new legislation obliges European Union (EU) Member States to introduce measures that reduce use of lightweight plastic bags by almost 50 percent by the end of 2019 and by 80 percent by the end of 2025 compared to 2010 usage levels. The European Bioplastics, a trade association in the EU, applauded the decision as it recognizes the benefits of compostable bags and paves the way for further development of EU-wide standardization and labeling of compostability. “The new legislation reaffirms the potential of biodegradable and compostable shopping bags to tackle the challenges of plastic bag consumption,” says François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics. “Compostable bags should be clearly marked and labeled so consumers can easily identify them as suitable for organic waste collection.” More information is available at www.european-bioplastics.org.
Bathroom Recycling Index
A recent survey conducted on behalf of Unilever, a global consumer products company, found that while a majority of Americans are aware that empty bath and beauty bottles are recyclable, less than half (34%) report always bringing these items to the household recycling bin. As a result, common bathroom products like shampoo, body wash and lotion bottles may be more likely to end up in landfills than their kitchen counterparts. Additional survey findings, dubbed the “Bathroom Recycling Index,” include: 42 percent claim they don’t recycle because they aren’t sure an item is eligible for recycling; and one in five (22%) Americans wouldn’t walk across their home to recycle a bath or beauty bottle. In fact, Americans are more likely to go the distance to get a drink when thirsty, charge their phone, or answer a phone call than walk an empty plastic bottle from the bathroom to the recycling bin. Unilever brands found in bathrooms include Dove, Suave®, St. Ives® and Caress®. “The average American household has eight products in plastic bottles in their bathroom,” explains Gina Boswell, Executive Vice President of Personal Care, Unilever North America. “If we’re able to inspire those millions of people to recycle their empty body wash or lotion bottles, this small action can bring about transformational change.”
The Bathroom Recycling Index is part of a campaign, “Rinse Recycle, Reimagine,” which is a collaboration between Unilever, Keep America Beautiful and the Ad Council. The online survey was conducted nationwide from March 9-23, 2015, among a demographically representative U.S. sample of 5,516 adults ages 18-plus.